On the Origin of Evolution: Tracing “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” from Aristotle to DNA

When, in 1858, Wallace sent in his own description of the principle of natural selection, Darwin’s first impulse was to forward the manuscript to a journal for publication. This may seem strange to us, but at the time this was common practice, unless the author of the material had indicated that he wished it to be regarded as confidential. This, of course, would mean that Darwin had to abandon his own claim to priority, even though he had spelt out this very same theory in his notesand unpublished correspondence in 1844. However, two of Darwin’s close colleagues, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, came up with an ingenious solution. Lyell was the leading figure in British geology at the time, the first volume of his Elements of Geology having be one of the books that Darwin had taken with him on the voyage of the Beagle, a quarter of a century earlier. Hooker was one of Britain’s leading botanists, shortly to become director of Kew Gardens. Between them, they linked extracts of Darwin’s and Wallace’s materials into a single presentation to the Linnaean Society, which they communicated, describing Darwin and Wallace as joint authors, in July 1858. This presentation itself had little impact, until the publication of On the Origin of Species the following year. This book, which has had an influence like few others, had been in the making for many years, and might have stayed that way for many years longer had it not been for the fact that Wallace, all unawares, had forced Darwin’s hand.

A great article reviewing a book on the history of evolution from Paul Braterman. @TedDavis, what do you think?

Has anyone read it?

If it’s half as interesting as the blog review, I’m going to try to read it, but it’s worth knowing if anyone recommends it.