The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species

The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species

The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species

The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species

Synopsis

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species is one of the most widely cited books in modern science. Yet tackling this classic can be daunting for students and general readers alike because of Darwin's Victorian prose and the complexity and scope of his ideas. The "Origin" Then and Now is a unique guide to Darwin's masterwork, making it accessible to a much wider audience by deconstructing and reorganizing the Origin in a way that allows for a clear explanation of its key concepts. The Origin is examined within the historical context in which it was written, and modern examples are used to reveal how this work remains a relevant and living document for today.


In this eye-opening and accessible guide, David Reznick shows how many peculiarities of the Origin can be explained by the state of science in 1859, helping readers to grasp the true scope of Darwin's departure from the mainstream thinking of his day. He reconciles Darwin's concept of species with our current concept, which has advanced in important ways since Darwin first wrote the Origin, and he demonstrates why Darwin's theory unifies the biological sciences under a single conceptual framework much as Newton did for physics. Drawing liberally from the facsimile of the first edition of the Origin, Reznick enables readers to follow along as Darwin develops his ideas.



The "Origin" Then and Now is an indispensable primer for anyone seeking to understand Darwin's Origin of Species and the ways it has shaped the modern study of evolution.

Excerpt

Darwin’s Origin of Species has been described as one of the books that is most widely referred to, but least likely to be read. My goal is to make the Origin accessible to a larger audience and to do so by placing it in a continuum of science. The Origin was the inception of a new, unifying theory of the life sciences, but it was also strongly influenced by the science that preceded it; so understanding the Origin requires looking back in time to define the context in which it was written. Sometimes this also means understanding that some details that were critical to Darwin’s theory were not yet known. The Origin was an inspiration to science because it highlighted these gaps in our knowledge and why it was important to fill them. It was much more of an inspiration because it defined so many new areas of inquiry. To appreciate the Origin, then, it is also important to look forward in time to see how it changed science.

I am an evolutionary biologist and have been studying evolution for over thirty years. I have specialized in the experimental evaluation of facets of the theory of evolution in nature. No one should be surprised to hear that someone like me is a fan of Charles Darwin. But being a fan of Darwin and his ideas is different from being an admirer of the Origin of Species. I first read the Origin during the summer break between completing my bachelor’s degree at Washington University and beginning PhD studies at the University of Pennsylvania. I cannot recall much about what I learned from that first reading. I do recall finding it very hard going. I finished it out of a sense of obligation. I did not read the Origin again until I was an assistant professor at the University of California, when I decided to use it as part of a graduate class. It was not until I had read the first and sixth editions a few times, plus learned more about the development of evolution as a discipline, that I appreciated the scope and lasting importance of the book. More . . .

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