The journal Current Biology invited a number of prominent biologists from a number of disciplines to re-read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, and to write commentaries – they can be found at (Re)Reading The Origin.
Charles Darwin’s 1859 book On the Origin of Species is much referenced, especially in this double anniversary year. But, does anyone still read it? And, if so, what is the book itself like as a text? We have asked biologists from a range of fields evolutionary biologists, but also geneticists, ecologists, paleontologists and molecular biologists to re-read (or read) The Origin for Current Biology. Below are the responses, contributed by: Andrew Berry, Matthew Cobb, Simon Conway Morris, Jerry Coyne, Hopi Hoekstra, Peter Lawrence, Robert May, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, Mark Ptashne, Matt Ridley and Marlene Zuk.
Actually, there was a diversity of take-up there. Peter Lawrence enthuses not just about the breadth of evidence but at the writing style, contrasting it with the dry and dusty writing style of modern scientific publications. This is possibly a false comparison, as Origins was written for a publi audience. In contrast, Mark Ptashne seems to have disliked the Victorian style, preferring to access a condensed version which in his view brings Darwin’s work to life rather better.
Simon Conway Morris makes a confession many might truthfully share: that in his youth he dipped into te book rather than read it in its entirety. Andrew Berry and Hopi Hoekstra, rather than re-read the work themselves, has a group of students work through it on a chapter by chapter basis. Anonymous feedback seems to be quite polarised!
And on a final note, John Whitfield’s blog Blogging the Origin has been a virtual book club, and a pleasant read.
Now, I must pull my copy from the bookshelf and start my re-reading of The Origin of Species!