Selected for The Best Australian Science Writing 2014
AS A TEENAGER I read Charles Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle and was intoxicated by the glimpse of a young questing mind wrestling with experience, evidence and argument. In my final year at school we studied Alan Moorehead’s Darwin and the Beagle (Harper and Row, 1969) and learned how this voyage came to change our understanding of the world. Darwin’s insight into the origin of species and the process of natural selection was carefully and anxiously developed over decades in his home at Down House in Kent and then forced into the open by Alfred Russel Wallace’s 1858 letter from the feverish jungles of Malaya. Two great and very different offspring of competitive, industrial Britain had arrived at the same idea. It was at heart a beautifully simple concept but its full scientific implications are still unfolding today. As I read Darwin’s account of his South American excursions and learned of Thomas Huxley’s eloquent defence of The Origin of Species, I yearned to live at a time when a grand and transformative scientific idea burst upon the world. Be careful what you wish for.
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