a personal ‘darwin bibliography’

At last night’s Cafe Scientique, I was asked to recommend books about Charles Darwin. So here goes. (This is my own reading list & probably quite idiosyncratic!) In no particular order:

Charles Darwin: the ‘Beagle’ letters – edited by Frederick Burkhardt (2008), Cambridge University Press. I presented snippets from this in yesterday’s blog; it’s a book I dip into rather than reading it from start to finish.

Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his daughter and human evolution – Randal Keynes (2001), Fourth Estate. Randal Keynesis a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. This is a lovely book: an intimate look at Darwin’s family life. It’s also a sad book – Annie died at the age of 10, probably of tuberculosis.

Fossils, Finches and Fuegians: Charles Darwin’s adventures and discoveries on the ‘Beagle’, 1832-1836 – Richard Keynes (2002), Harper Collins. Richard Keynes is Darwin’s great-grandson. This book looks at the scientific work Charles Darwin carried out during the Beagle voyage – it would be a good book to read after Charles’ own account of his time on the Beagle.

Voyage of the Beagle – Charles Darwin, edited by Janet Browne & Michael Neve (1989), Penguin. I really enjoyed this book – it’s a great adventure story & Darwin’s zest for life & love of what he was doing shines out of every page.

The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809-1882 – Charles Darwin, edited by Nora Barlow (1958), Norton. Another lovely book – I’ve written a bit about it in another post.

Darwin: discovering the tree of life – Niles Eldredge ( 2005). This book was written to accompany the exhibition about Darwin that was brought to Auckland War Memorial Museum last summer. (I got the t-shirt!)

Janet Browne’s magnificent 2-volume biography of Darwin: Charles Darwin: voyaging (1995), and  Charles Darwin: the power of place (2002). Voyaging covers the period up until the publication of The Origin of Species, while The power of place begins with the events leading up to the publication & moves on from there. They’re both big books, but so well-written that I found the story flowed off the page.

Browne has also written Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species‘ (2006), which you could describe as a ‘short’ biography – a good intro to Darwin’s life & the development of his thinking. Good if you want a thorough overview & find the 2-volume biography a bit daunting in terms of size. (But I predict that this ‘taster’ will see you move on to the bigger books!)

Darwin: the life of a tormented evolutionist – Adrian Desmond & James Moore (1991), Norton. I’m reading this one at the moment; it’s interesting but personally I’m not enjoying it as much as I did the Browne biography.

And finally, The Reluctant Mr Darwin: an intimate portrait of Charles Darwin and the making of his theory of evolution – David Quammen (2006), Atlas Books, Norton. (This was published in the US as The kiwi’s egg.) I like Quammen’s writing; you might have seen his piece on Darwin in the recent National Geographic magazine, but I first encountered him via The plight of the Dodo – another big but excellent book.

I hope you find something there to interest you. It’s a very long way from an exhaustive list of the material that’s available, just what I have on my office shelves. Enjoy 🙂



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