Young travel writer follows in the footsteps of Darwin.
I used to read a lot of travel books before I caught the Darwin bug. But Eric Simons's book offers the best of both worlds: a travel book about following in Darwin's footsteps. It describes exactly the journey I have often contemplated making, were I but 20 years younger and 20 times more adventurous: roughly following Darwin's cross-country expeditions in South America during the Beagle voyage.
But, I am pleased to report, Simons's book isn't really a re-creation of Darwin's travels, nor a pilgrimage. Rather, he travels in the same spirit as Darwin: a young man in his early 20s, experiencing the excitement of visiting a strange, new continent. In other words, it is more of a travel book than a Darwin book—more Bruce Chatwin than Voyage of the Beagle—and I think that is the right balance.
Not that Simons's book won't be of great interest to my fellow Darwin groupies. It is fascinating to read how the places that Darwin visited have changed (or, in some cases, hardly changed at all) since the 1830s. It is sad to read how much of the world that Darwin saw has disappeared forever, but some comfort can be taken from the fact that certain places are largely unchanged since Darwin's day.
My favourite episode from the book came when Simons went to see a Darwin musical in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego. Jen's nephew Liam recently returned from Ushuaia, so I asked him if he'd been to see the musical. Liam was totally unaware that Darwin had even visited Tierra del Fuego, and had no idea why the Beagle Channel upon which Ushuaia sits was so named. It made me realise that I had been neglecting my duties as a boring, Darwin-mad pseudo-uncle.
I soon put that right.
Disclosure: I received a free, pre-publication proof of this book from the publishers for review purposes.