The publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 marked a dramatic turning point in scientific thought. The volume had taken Darwin more than twenty years to publish, in part because he envisioned the storm of controversy it was certain to unleash. Indeed, selling out its first edition on its first day, The Origin of Species revolutionized science, philosophy, and theology.
Darwin’s reasoned, documented arguments carefully advance his theory of natural selection and his assertion that species were not created all at once by a divine hand but started with a few simple forms that mutated and adapted over time. Whether commenting on his own poor health, discussing his experiments to test instinct in bees, or relating a conversation about a South American burrowing rodent, Darwin’s monumental achievement is surprisingly personal and delightfully readable. Its profound ideas remain controversial even today, making it the most influential book in the natural sciences ever written—an important work not just to its time but to the history of humankind.
About the Author
Frederick Burkhardt (1912 2007), the founder of the Darwin Correspondence Project, was president of Bennington College, Vermont, 1947 57, and president of the American Council of Learned Societies, 1957 74. Before founding the Darwin Correspondence Project in 1974, he was already at work on an edition of the papers of the philosopher William James. He received the Modern Language Association of America's first Morton N. Cohen Award for a Distinguished Edition of Letters in 1991, the Founder's Medal of the Society for the History of Natural History in 1997, the Thomas Jefferson Gold Medal of the American Philosophical Society in 2003 and a special citation for outstanding service to the history of science from the History of Science Society in 2005.