Book review: ‘The Development of Darwin’s Theory’ by Dov Ospovat

Natural History, Natural Theology, and Natural Selection, 1838–1859.

The Development of Darwin’s Theory

This book must have sat unread on by bookshelf, silently admonishing me, for at least twenty years. More fool me for not having got round to it sooner. It’s a brilliant book.

The Development of Darwin’s Theory covers the two decades between Darwin’s first coming up with the idea of Natural Selection as a mechanism for evolution, and the publication of On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s slowness in going to press with his revolutionary theory might seem baffling, but the late Dov Ospovat brilliantly shows how Darwin’s own views on Natural Selection themselves evolved during this period.

With an educational background in Natural Theology, Darwin’s early belief was that the adaptations brought about by Natural Selection were perfect, and their purpose was to maintain balance in a progressive natural world. These beliefs were to change as he continued to flesh out his theory.

Ospovat shows how Darwin’s thinking was heavily influenced by other scientists working in related fields, and how, in order to bolster his own theory, Darwin was at pains to show how the latest scientific thinking about species could be explained by evolution by means of Natural Selection.

The Development of Darwin’s Theory is very much an academic book, and can be a bit hard-going in places for the lay reader, but it offers major insights into Darwin’s thinking in what were, perhaps, the two most important decades of his life.

Highly recommended.

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Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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