[the first book to inspire me to write a full review in almost a year, instead of just a short review in a "summary of reading" post]

This is a landmark book - Darwin's edited and abridged journal of his travels around the world in the ship Beagle - the voyage that influenced him greatly in forming the theory of evolution. Naturally, if you expect a "aha, evolution" chapter, you'll be disappointed. The theory itself was formed by Darwin long after the voyage - but in his writing you can see signs of first understanding that could lead to its formation. It's important to keep in mind (and is obvious from the reading) that "The Voyage" is an important scientific work in itself. Even without playing the role in the formation of the theory of evolution, this book must have advanced a few sciences forward - botany, zoology and geology - since Darwin went into places no such scientist went before, and documented his findings (as well as collecting samples) very thoroughly.

Even putting its historical and scientific value aside, it's a pretty good book. Travel writing is popular nowadays - but who can boast a 5-year journey around the world, most of which was spent on land trekking into the then-almost-unknown territories (mainly in South America)? Darwin's writing style is surprisingly readable here, and apart from longish digressions into botanical observations, the book is interesting and easy to follow.

Curiously, reading the book I couldn't help thinking how great a hacker Darwin would be had he lived today :-) The man had an insatiable appetite for discovery, tinkering, exploring and cogitating. He also displays comprehensive knowledge and deduction skills in several fields of science. That he was in his early twenties during this journey simply amazes me. Clearly, from the theory he formed it is obvious that Charles Darwin was a genius, but reading this book it just strikes you again and again.

Darwin's personality also shows itself through the book. In many ways, it is heavily influenced by his upbringing and the historic period he lived in. While in a lot of aspects Darwin is an enlightened human being, in some he wouldn't be considered politically-correct nowadays. One example is his account of the savage indigenous populations, whom Darwin perceived to be lower in grade than domestic animals. Another, his cheerful account of knocking various animals on the head with his geological hammer to examine them. On the other hand, what would you expect from a naturalist exploring uncharted territories with animals that weren't properly documented until that day.

To conclude, I really enjoyed this book. I will admit I skimmed through a few tiring sections here and there, but overall it was a good read.


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