Synopses & Reviews
Charles Darwin was a bumbling neophyte naturalist when he boarded the Beagle in 1831. Through the five years that followed, as the ship hugged the coastline of South America, Darwin found himself wading through waist-deep mud, climbing towerlike trees in the rain forest, and scaling craggy Patagonian cliffs as he closely observed the relationship between the wild creatures he stalked and the astonishing, utterly unfamiliar landscapes where he found them. At the end of these adventures, Darwin emerged a philosophical naturalist who could draw scientific truths from the simple stories contained in the creatures he encountered. What happened to Darwin?
That's the question Lyanda Lynn Haupt engagingly explores in a narrative that puts us inside the young Darwin's shoes, and brings us nose to nose with dung beetles, ostriches, and all forms of native wildlife. By focusing mostly on the birds Darwin observed, and by brilliantly mining his lesser-known writings (diaries, correspondence, ornithological journals, unruly little pocket notebooks) Haupt illuminates the process of discovery that shaped Darwin's vision. Her book not only chronicles Darwin's transformation from uncertain amateur to genius but reminds us how and why, in our own world as well as Darwin's, attention to small things can make a big difference.
"When Charles Darwin set out on his voyage of discovery aboard the Beagle in 1831, he was a nave naturalist. Upon his return to England five years later, as nature writer Haupt (Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds) capably demonstrates, he was a polished, philosophical student of nature. In fluid, lovely prose, Haupt documents this dramatic transformation, focusing on the notebooks Darwin kept during the journey. Through her selections, we see Darwin's minute observations and his understanding of the natural world, and we gain early hints of the ideas that would transform the world when he published On the Origin of Species in 1859. While Haupt presents nothing dramatically new, it is enjoyable to picture the young Darwin spending hours watching Andean condors soar and anthropomorphizing many South American birds (not just the famous finches of the Galpagos). Haupt uses Darwin's personal journey as a metaphor for our contemporary view of the natural world, expressing the hope that people today might become more attuned to their natural surroundings. Darwin, Haupt argues, reminds us 'that we too are animals, connected to life, past and present.... That nothing in the natural world is beneath our notice.'" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
By focusing mostly on the birds Charles Darwin observed, and by brilliantly mining his lesser-known writings, Haupt pens a startlingly fresh exploration of the man's genius that invites readers to look at the world with new eyes.
Read exclusive essays by Lyanda Lynn Haupt: 2009