Origins of Darwin’s Evolution: Solving the Species Puzzle Through Time and Place by J. David Archibald does something that not enough studies of Darwin’s work do: Get off the island.
Years ago, I realize that most of Darwin’s arguments, in On the Origin of Species, are underlain by evidence Darwin would have observed prior to setting foot on the Galapagos Islands. This includes fossil evidence from mainland South America, bio-geography in that region and on the Falklands, other observations, and material in the literature, some of which he was carrying with him.
It is not that the Galapagos didn’t matter. They mattered a great deal, as a natural laboratory of evolution. And it is not clear to what degree Darwin had realized his own theory before, during, and after his Galapagos visit. But, reading whichever version of The Voyage of the Beagle you like, that Darwin’s post hoc reconstruction of the ontogeny of his own reasoning starts out long before the Beagle closed in on Valparaiso, on the Pacific Coast.
Origins of Darwin’s Evolution: Solving the Species Puzzle Through Time and Place is a refreshing look at Darwin’s voyage incorporating this perspective.
From the Publisher:
In On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin presented his evidence for evolution and natural selection as its mechanism. He drew upon his earliest data gathered during his voyage on the HMS Beagle, which included collecting mammalian fossils in South America clearly related to living forms, tracing the geographical distributions of living species across South America, and sampling the peculiar fauna of the geologically young Galápagos Archipelago that showed evident affinities to South American forms. By the end of the voyage, he came to the realization that instead of various centers of creation, species evolved in different regions throughout the world. However, except for some personal ponderings, he did not express this revelation explicitly in his notebooks until shortly after his return. Over the years, he collected more evidence supporting evolution, but his early work remained paramount: it became the first paragraph of On the Origin of Species and encompassed three separate chapters, as well as later appearing in his autobiography.
Many discussions of Darwin’s landmark book give scant attention to this wealth of evidence and today we still do not fully appreciate its significance in Darwin’s thinking. In Origins of Darwin’s Evolution, J. David Archibald explores this lapse. He also shows that Darwin’s other early passion, geology, proved a more elusive corroboration of evolution. On the Origin of Species dedicated only one chapter to the rock and fossil record, as it appeared too incomplete for Darwin’s evidentiary standards. Carefully retracing Darwin’s gathering of evidence and the evolution of his thinking, Origins of Darwin’s Evolution achieves a new understanding of how Darwin crafted his transformative theory.
This is a well written, relatively short, monograph that that emphasizes the role of Historical Biogeography in Darwin’s thinking, by an experienced and well informed American paleontologist, who also wrote Extinction and Radiation: How the Fall of Dinosaurs Led to the Rise of Mammals and Dinosaur Extinction and the End of an Era.