Book review: Evolutionary edition of ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Simon Phillipson

An aesthetically pleasing volume, indicating how Darwin’s great work on evolution itself evolved.

Evolutionary edition of Origin

This is an unusual, typographically attractive version of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. The result of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the primary aim of Simon Phillipson’s project was to produce an aesthetically pleasing printed object harking back to the letter-pressed layouts of the nineteenth-century originals. But Phillipson also took the opportunity to explore the alterations Darwin made to his book during its six UK editions.

On the right-hand page of each double-page spread, Phillipson has reproduced the wording of the sixth and final edition of Origin (1872), highlighting in bronze those words that Darwin had changed at some point since the first edition. Opposite, in the corresponding location on the otherwise blank page, Phillipson indicates how the words and punctuation appeared in earlier editions of Origin, before Darwin amended them.

This volume does not attempt to be a definitive variorum edition. In order not to over-complicate matters, Phillipson has not tried to indicate the edition(s) in which the text was amended. Nor has he indicated where Darwin inserted additional words into the earlier text. If you need that level of detail, you should refer to more academic variorums intended for serious researchers (e.g. the Online Variorum available at Darwin Online). This volume is primarily aimed at readers who might enjoy ‘dipping into’ Origin, exploring the kinds of changes Darwin made as he continued to tweak his masterpiece.

This interpretation of Origin was designed to be a beautiful, artistic work. The aim was to provide the reader with an enjoyable aesthetic experience, while indicating how Origin itself evolved over time. In this respect, it succeeds admirably: Phillipson has produced a beautiful and unusual version of Darwin’s great work.

Evolutionary edition of ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Simon Phillipson

Copies of this book are available via Simon Phillipson’s website.

Disclosure: I received two free copies of this book from the publisher.

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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