‘The Reluctant Mr. Darwin’ by David Quammen
David Quammen’s journalistic biography, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, goes beyond what you probably learned about Charles Darwin in school. Rather than focusing solely on Darwin’s theory of evolution — though there is plenty of information on that subject throughout — the book nicely encapsulates the story of its making, allowing readers to get to know the vulnerable yet compelling man behind the science as they follow along with his discoveries and the race against time as he hurried to publish his findings before a rival could.
Twenty-one years passed between Charles Darwin’s epiphany that “natural selection” formed the basis of evolution and the scientist’s publication of On the Origin of Species. Why did Darwin delay, and what happened during the course of those two decades? The human drama and scientific basis of these years constitute a fascinating, tangled tale that elucidates the character of a cautious naturalist who initiated an intellectual revolution.
Ryan Holiday described the book thusly in his Reading List newsletter:
[Quammen] presents Darwin as a complicated, eccentric, hypochondriac who almost seemed to dread the discovery he felt himself drifting towards. I thought that was a unique take. The book is funny and quirky and really gets inside Darwin’s mind. […] I just found it fascinating how relaxed and methodical Darwin was. Maybe that was partially fueled by procrastination, but I appreciated that he wasn’t this intense, driven figure. He was just doing what he loved.
If I could recommend only one biography about Charles Darwin, it would be this one. It honestly should be required reading at the high school level, at the very least.
Get the book in these formats: