Sunday, February 21, 2010

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin

For most people the name Darwin brings to mind an old, serious-looking man with a long, white beard.  But what about Charley Darwin--the small boy who couldn't still still in class because he'd rather be collecting specimens outside?  Darwin's life was not always certain and the man who would go on to become one of the most important and controversial scientists of his day (and ours) was once a young man, unsure of himself and without a clue as to what he'd do with his life.  This book follows that boy from his days as a mediocre student worshiping his older brother who seemed much more likely to make something out of his life through his growth into the young man who joined the Beagle Expedition and set off on a trip around the world from which he knew he may never return.

I read this book just a couple of days after Darwin's birthday and enjoyed it immensely.  It was easy to relate to the young Darwin and the picture of his life as a young boy was charming and surprising.  The book also seemed fairly well-researched while allowing for small discrepancies to augment the narrative, which is just how I like it.  What results is a fascinating portrait of a man and his time that provides a context to better understand both the man and his theories.  I found it interesting following him on his travels as his ideas grew and become more solid and certain and seeing just how his theory evolved (I couldn't resist).  Plus, I love it when novels have bibliographies in the back.

"Facts are unchanging but memories are mutable--sometimes sharp, sometimes out of focus, sometimes shadowy or absent altogether."   

True story: apparently Darwin almost didn't go on the Beagle Expedition because Captain FitzRoy believed in phrenology and din't like the look of Darwin's nose--who knew?  Although this is true I imagine the response Darwin uses in the novel that gets him on board is made up by the author: "Well sir, I can tell you that my nose has been known to tell the most outrageous lies about me."  I like it anyway.

The True Adventures of Charley Darwin, by Carolyn Meyer.  ISBN: 9780152061944

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