DARWIN AND THE BARNACLE: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History's Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough

Rebecca Stott, Author
Rebecca Stott, Author . Norton $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-05745-4
Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-571-21609-3
Paperback - 309 pages - 978-0-393-32571-3
Hardcover - 309 pages - 978-0-571-20966-8
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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. Agent, Faith Evans. (June)

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