In Fossils, Finches and Fuegians, Richard Keynes has produced a well-researched and highly readable account of the voyage aboard HMS Beagle of his illustrious great-grandfather, Charles Darwin. Keynes isn't the first of the great man's descendents to cash in on the Darwin Industry, and I'm sure he won't be the last, but he has done us Darwin addicts a great service in drawing together from various sources a modern version of Darwin's classic, The Voyage of the Beagle.
The story of the Beagle voyage is well know to anyone who has more than a passing interest in Darwin, but Keynes has been able to unearth several interesting snippets not mentioned in other accounts, and has included a number of fascinating, previously unpublished contemporary illustrations. Having the benefit of historical hindsight, as well as the luxury of being able to write at greater length than Darwin, Keynes ably puts the story of the Beagle voyage in its scientific context, while taking the opportunity to flesh out many of the details that Darwin and subsequent writers did not have space to provide.
We tend to forget, when thinking of the iconic Darwin—the perpetual invalid, shunning controversy, hidden safely from the public eye in his home in Kent, working away in his study, or taking solitary strolls along the Sandwalk—that he was once a young, energetic man with a passion for science, and with his whole life ahead of him. We also forget that, in setting out on what was to be a five-year circumnavigation of the globe, Darwin really was embarking on voyage of adventure and discovery: there were still great uncharted areas of white on the maps, and many of the natives were still seen as savages. The ever modest Darwin had to underplay these dangers in his account of the voyage; Keynes has no such restrictions, and his book is the better for it.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from the publishers.