Wednesday, December 25, 2013

71. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

A Classic. One of the most pathbreaking books of all times. A book, which took me a little over a year to finish. "The" discourse on Evolution, the world of Darwin, which all of us are familiar with, we grew up in, with little understood or completely misunderstood and misused idioms like "Survival of the Fittest", which Darwin, interestingly attributes to Herbert Spencer.

I am sure everyone reading this review knows what the book would generally be about, and therefore, I would like to discuss some other features, which struck me. The book has a strong defensive undercurrent, through which Darwin at times is more concerned with defending his position than asserting his viewpoint. Darwin's tone, at places, where there is little proof to propagate his theory, is almost apologetic. Then he writes that many naturalists have come to terms with natural selection, while ridiculing others, who may still believe in independent creation of species.

Another most interesting observation was the glaring and most obvious absence of any definitive statement on the evolution of humans - a clear indication on Darwin's lack of willingness to rake up such a sensitive issue, his work being controversial enough as it already was. He touches upon this topic most superficially, carefully sandwiched in a para about Herbert Spencer and human psychology, "In the future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already well laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." Darwin revisited this topic 12 years later, in his The Descent of Man, by which time, the populace probably had enough time to digest and accept the basic tenets of evolution.

A timeless book, even if now dated.


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