Sunday, January 5, 2014

Darwin's Armada

Darwin's Armada tells the stories of four great voyages of discovery undertaken in the nineteenth century. Each carried a novice naturalist who later emerged as a major force of theory of evolution. Charles Darwin circumnavigated the globe aboard the Beagle and the first inklings of natural selection were planted in his mind there. Joseph Hooker travelled with the famous Ross expedition to the antarctic, and though they couldn't reach the south pole as intended, his studies of the southern flora later provided crucial evidence for evolution. Thomas Huxley travelled to Australia and nearby lands aboard the Rattlesnake studying sea slugs and other marine creatures. And Alfred Wallace travelled first to Amazon and later to the Malay Archipelago, collecting specimens, and came upon the principle of natural selection independently of Darwin. Later all four became close friends and allies in the war to establish evolution as a credible scientific theory, against the opposition of religion and established science.

The book captures the element of adventure in these long drawn, perilous journeys well, along with the elation felt by the voyagers when greeted with unforeseen, unimagined vistas. The Ross expedition made the deepest impression on me in this regard. There is also inspiration; while Darwin and Hooker came from well to do families, Huxley and Wallace didn't. Wallace's story is particularly fascinating on this count; after four years of backbreaking work in the Amazon basin, while he was returning with his prized collection of specimens the ship caught fire and sunk. Not losing his nerve, he spent further eight years in the Malay Archipelago and emerged as a co-discoverer of natural selection. There are many interesting nuggets like that. Overall it was a good first read of the year. Additionally, it brought back the memories of adventure stories read in the younger days.

1 comment:

Zaru said...

Nice review! Keep reviewing :)