What Did Charles Darwin Read? See His Handwritten Reading List & Read Books from His Library Online


Click to enlarge

Today marks the 215th anniver­sary of pio­neer­ing Eng­lish nat­u­ral­ist Charles Dar­win’s birth — a suit­able occa­sion, per­haps, to final­ly take that copy of On the Ori­gin of Species down off your shelf (or from our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks). Though Dar­win’s best-known pub­li­ca­tion lays out his obser­va­tions on evo­lu­tion by nat­ur­al selec­tion, cul­mi­nat­ing in the the­o­ry often and unhesi­tat­ing­ly called the most impor­tant in biol­o­gy, the book remains more respect­ed than read. Still, any sci­en­tist’s lega­cy, even that of one with a name so wide­ly known as Dar­win’s, comes down to what they under­stood, and thus what they allowed the rest of human­i­ty to under­stand, not what they wrote. But you still have to won­der: what did Dar­win read?

We have two answers to that ques­tion, the first of which comes in the form of Dar­win’s 1838 “to read” list above, which runs as fol­lows:

Humboldt’s New Spain — — —
 Fau­na Bore­alis
Ento­mo­log­i­cal Mag­a­zine — — —
Study Buf­fon on vari­eties of Domes­ti­cat­ed ani­mals — — — —
Find out from Sta­tis­ti­cal Soc. where M. Quetelet has pub­lished his laws about sex­es rel­a­tive to the age of mar­riage
Brown at end of Flinders & at the end of Con­go voy­age (Hook­er 923) read
Decan­dolle Philoso­phie
Decan­dolle on Geo­graph dis­trib: —
F. Cuvi­er on Instinct read
L. Jenyns paper in Annals of Nat. Hist.
Prichard; a 3d vol  Lawrence read
Bory St Vin­cent Vol 3. p 164 on unfixed form: Dr Royle on Him­malaya types (read)
Smellie Phi­los­o­phy of Zool­o­gy.
Flem­ing Dit­to
Fal­con­ers remark on the influ­ence of cli­mate

You can find more on the list’s con­text at End­pa­per, whose post describes it as found in Dar­win’s “series of note­books for the­o­ret­i­cal work now known as Note­books A, B, C, D, etc.,” specif­i­cal­ly Note­book C. (The famous Tree of Life sketch, they add, came from Note­book B.) For our sec­ond answer to the ques­tion of which books equipped the cel­e­brat­ed biol­o­gist’s mind, we offer the books that fur­nished his home: back in 2011, we fea­tured Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty’s Bio­di­ver­si­ty Her­itage Library and its project to dig­i­tize and make freely avail­able 330 texts from Dar­win’s library. All come anno­tat­ed by the man him­self, so you can learn not just from what he read, but about how he read. The next, much more dif­fi­cult step, then presents itself: to think how he thought.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Dar­win, a 1993 Film by Peter Green­away

Read the Orig­i­nal Let­ters Where Charles Dar­win Worked Out His The­o­ry of Evo­lu­tion

The Genius of Charles Dar­win Revealed in Three-Part Series by Richard Dawkins

Darwin’s Per­son­al Library Goes Dig­i­tal: 330 Books Online

Darwin’s Lega­cy, a Stan­ford course in our col­lec­tion of 750 Free Online Cours­es

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, Asia, film, lit­er­a­ture, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on his brand new Face­book page.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.