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A scientific detective story that illuminates the remarkable saga of Darwin's greatest achievement. Pairing Charles Darwin and a rare species of barnacle as her unlikely protagonists, Rebecca Stott has written an absorbing work of history, a book that guides readers through the treacherous shoals of nineteenth-century biology. Beginning her narrative in the 1820s even before Darwin's Beagle voyage, Stott examines the mystery of why Darwin waited over two decades between formulating his pivotal theory of natural selection and publishing it. Lavishly illustrated, filled with riddles and concepts that challenge our notion of Victorian science, Darwin and the Barnacle is a thrilling account of how genius proceeds through indirectionand how one small item of curiosity contributed to one of science's greatest achievements. 32 illustrations.
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Rebecca Stott is an affiliated scholar in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University.From Publishers Weekly:
Who would ever guess that those funny little creatures called barnacles played an important part in the development of the theory of evolution? Charles Darwin was fascinated with barnacles for eight long years. If he had died in 1854, he would have been remembered as the author of a groundbreaking four-volume study of all the different shapes and sexual variants that these crustaceans exhibit. Darwin's meticulous investigation of the variations in species and morphology helped him to develop the analytical and descriptive skills he would apply when, a few years later, he took the short draft of his "species theory," as he called it, out of a locked drawer and expanded it into On the Origin of Species. Stott, a scholar in the history of science at Cambridge University, explains that Darwin's investigations could not have gone very far without the development in the 1840s and '50s of Britain's postal system, which depended on the expansion of the railroads, in turn dependent on smalltime speculators like Darwin, whose financial independence was based on his investments. Stott tells her story beautifully, but she takes a while to get going and occasionally dallies on tangential topics just when one wants to know what happened next. Readers will learn almost as much about England in the 1850s as about this crucial decade in Darwin's life. This fascinating account will probably be of interest mainly to Darwin and zoology enthusiasts, but history buffs and readers who appreciate fine writing will also enjoy it. 32 illus.
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