This book is an essential addition to the collection of any person who studies evolution or takes an interest in the history of evolutionary study or Darwin himself. A somewhat small and pleasantly unassuming text, it represents the life of Darwin through his own words, from writings, publications, correspondences, and other sources. Following him from the earliest days of his life to his explorations on the Beagle and through his later years in research and the synthesis of his positions, Browne has captured the essence of Darwin in a way that few besides hardcore Darwin scholars could.
Appropriate for scholar and casual reader alike, the book presents Darwin in all his many roles – young man, student, family man, adept scholar, and conscientious thinker. While many of us speculate about Darwin's thinking from an exterior perspective, he comes to life in these pages as we view his concerns, troubles, joys, excitement, and considerations of science through his own lens.
The structure of the book itself is useful, gathering the chapters into six sections: “Early Life and Voyage of the Beagle,” “Marriage and Scientific Work,” “Origin of Species,” “Mankind,” “On Himself,” and “Friends and Family.” Each section contains a number of subdivided chapters that address contributing elements to those areas of his life. I personally found this layout to be both easy to navigate and useful, in that I have read through the book as a whole but also have moments when I like to peruse specific sections, according to my thoughts that day or my preparations for class. The format lends itself equally well to either approach.