Juliet Gardiner looks at recent publications marking the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s most famous work and the bicentenary of his birth
‘Can we doubt … that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and procreating their kind?’ wrote Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species, which was first published in 1859. It was ‘a hasty introduction to his ideas, for which he would have further evidence in future’, as Dame Gillian Beer reminds us in her introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics volume (£8.99), first published in 1996 and reissued for the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, and 150 years since the publication of the Origin. With a fine chart of butterflies on the jacket, the Oxford edition is a small compendium containing a glossary of scientific terms, bibliography, chronology and register of writers mentioned in the text, as well as Beer’s illuminating and sensible introduction. It is an essential starting point for any commemorative expedition into Darwinia.
Where to next? Perhaps a collection of Charles Darwin: Evolutionary Writings edited by James A. Secord (Oxford University Press, £12.99), an elegant small volume that repeats chapters from Origin of Species, linking them with Darwin’s other key scientific works – Journal of Researches on the Beagle Voyage (1845) and The Descent of Man (1871) – and concludes with his brief but wholly delightful autobiographical fragments, which he ‘wrote for nearly an hour on most afternoons’.