In the Origin of Species (1859) Darwin challenged many of the most deeply held beliefs of the Western world. Arguing for a material, not divine, origin of species, he showed that new species are achieved by 'natural selection'. Development, diversification, decay, extinction and absence of plan are all inherent to his theories. Darwin read prodigiously across many fields; he reflected on his experiences as a traveller, he experimented. His profoundly influential concept of 'natural selection' condenses materials from past and present, from the Galapagos Islands to rural Staffordshire, from English back gardens to colonial encounters. The Origin communicates the enthusiasm of original thinking in an open, descriptive style, and Darwin's emphasis on the value of diversity speaks more strongly now than ever.
CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN was born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England, to a wealthy intellectual family, his grandfather being the famous physician Erasmus Darwin. At Cambridge University he formed a friendship with J. S. Henslow, a professor of botany, and that association, along with his enthusiasm for collecting beetles, led to "a burning zeal," as he wrote in his Autobiography, for the natural sciences. When Henslow obtained for him the post of naturalist on H.M.S. Beagle, the course of his life was fixed. The five-year-long voyage to the Southern Hemisphere between 1831 and 1836 would lay the foundation for his ideas about evolution and natural selection. Upon his return Darwin lived in London before retiring to his residence at Down, a secluded village in Kent. For the next forty years he conducted his research there and wrote the works that would change human understanding forever. Knowing of the resistance from the orthodox scientific and religious communities, Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859 only when another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, independently reached the same conclusions. His other works include The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and Recollections of My Mind and Character, also titled Autobiography (1887). Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle was published posthumously in 1933. Darwin died in 1882; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.