HMS Beagle put out of Devonport dockyard, England, on December 27, 1831, and one of the most extraordinary voyages in history was under way. Aboard was a highly skilled crew of surveyors, set to chart key coastlines for the British Admiralty-and a raw and inexperienced naturalist named Charles Darwin. This fairly obscure twenty-two year old had not been the first choice to accompany the Beagle expedition. Yet his experiences and insights reverberate to this day. For a mind like Darwin's, open to fresh impressions, alert to their every implication, it was an exhilarating journey. Here is his detailed account of a five-year expedition that was as powerful emotionally and spiritually as it was scientifically; the formative moment of one of modernity's greatest minds. These journals capture the first sensations of standing on a sun-seared volcanic island in mid-Atlantic; or plunging through a Brazilian rainforest undefaced by the hand of man. Here are his awestruck reactions to Patagonia, the Andes, the Galapagos Islands, Australia's Blue Mountains and the Keeling Islands.
An earnest-even naive-young man, Darwin had yet to find a firm direction in life (indeed, he had very seriously considered the clergy). The idea of evolution by natural selection was itself only just beginning to evolve: within these diaries we see the first hints of future theories taking form. This is a very different Darwin from the monumental figure we know today, revered-and reviled-as the Prophet of Evolution. Rather, he is a likeable young man brimful of curiosity and remarkably free of preconception or prejudice.