Filled with extraordinary observations, and occasionally hair-raising anecdotes, this is the most endearing of all Darwin's books.
On 27 December 1831, the 22-year-old Charles Darwin joined HMS Beagle as an unpaid naturalist on its circumnavigation of the world. For the young Cambridge graduate, who had abandoned his medical studies and was about to take holy orders, it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
While the Beagle made its progress around the South American coast, Darwin was afforded the unique chance to collect and study a vast array of flora and fauna. His most significant discoveries were made on the Galapagos Islands, where he saw for himself hundreds of species of animals and birds unique to the archipelago. His journal, however, is not simply a record of his meticulously conducted investigations; it is a vividly written account of a great adventure. When not suffering from seasickness ('no trifling evil'), Darwin witnessed civil war in Argentina, devastating earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in Chile, and the worst excesses of the slave trade. By the time he returned after five years at sea he had acquired a wealth of scientific knowledge, which inspired a lifelong career and led some 23 years later to the publication of The Origin of Species.
The conclusions he drew changed forever our view of the world and our place within it. Throughout his life, Darwin retained a special affection for The Voyage of HMS Beagle - its success, he admitted, 'always tickles my fancy' - and rightly so, for it is the freshest, most lively and endearing of all his books.
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