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150 Years Ago — Why Now?
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150 Years Ago

On this date in 1859 a not particularly well-known Briton had a book published that outlined his views of the natural world, and his ideas of how some of that world worked.

After all this time Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species is probably second only to the Bible as the most misquoted and misunderstood book on the planet, and second only to Joyce’s Ulysses as a book that people claimed to have read, but haven’t.

The status of the book is probably best exemplified by the fact that a first edition about to be auctioned was discovered on a book shelf in a guest bathroom at an old home in Britain.

The book actually owes its infamy more to the Huxley-Wilberforce debate than anything Darwin wrote.


1 Steve Bates { 11.25.09 at 2:48 pm }

I smile every time I glance at my copy of Origin. Whether out of ignorance or as an exercise in the subtlest kind of wit, the editor responsible for the cover of that edition filled the dust jacket with a painting of… I am not making this up… a chain-of-being, from small monkey to H. sapiens, proceeding in a tidy line, left to right.

I have read about half of Origin in intermittent fits and starts over the years. The science is by now fairly comprehensible to most of us, but the 19th-century prose can be tough going.

2 Bryan { 11.25.09 at 4:25 pm }

I really should try to find out where Wilberforce got the idea about monkeys. It certainly wasn’t from the book, but it is one of the most persistent myths.