Source: American Scientist
July - August 2010
The same tropes are used over and over to define and describe the Galápagos Islands: They are the place where Charles Darwin had his eureka moment, a pristine and isolated sanctuary, the living laboratory of evolution, a symbol of the persistence of life under even the harshest of conditions. An excellent trio of recent books revisits these familiar notions, revealing that although they certainly have some validity, they perhaps have more to do with our hopes and assumptions than with reality.
In Darwin in Galápagos: Footsteps to a New World, authors K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes, both naturalists who have conducted research in the Galápagos for decades, embark on a historic recreation of Darwin's 1835 visit in which they attempt to literally retrace his steps during the five weeks he spent there. The book doesn't start with Darwin's arrival in the Galápagos, however. First come three substantial chapters, one on Darwin's life before he set sail on H.M.S. Beagle at age 22, and two on his experiences during the first few years of its voyage before reaching the islands. The authors draw on Darwin's autobiographical writings and letters, as well as works by Janet Browne, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Peter J. Bowler, James Secord, Sandra Herbert and others, to create a revealing personal, professional and psychological profile of the man who would so transform science and our place in the world. Grant and Estes portray Darwin almost as yet another fascinating Galápagos species, rafted to the islands from elsewhere only to undergo an intellectual transformation under their isolating influence.
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