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Charles Darwin and The Origin of Species (Greenwood Guides to Historic Events 1500-1900)

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In 1985, the Italian scientist Antonella La Vergata remarked that the ‘‘Darwin’s-place-in-history approach’’ dominated writing about Darwin and the development of the theory of evolution before 1960. Darwin was the colossus who stood above every other scientist in the nineteenth century when it came to developing a theory about the origin of life. La Vergata’s argument was that historians and scientists who used this approach ignored the important contributions made by Darwin’s contemporaries as well as other scientists who preceded and followed him. Even worse, this approach ignored the large number of people to whom Darwin wrote letters either to discuss the research he was doing or to obtain the answers to questions he had. Darwin should be viewed as part of a community even if he was the central figure in this community.1 While acknowledging La Vergata’s criticism, this book is a Darwin’s-place-in-history book.

Darwin’s community of correspondents—which included scientists, cattle breeders, explorers, and government officials—was important but, first and foremost, the story of The Origin of Species is the story of Charles Darwin’s research and writing. Darwin could not have written The Origin of Species without the help of many people—his friends Charles Lyell and Thomas Hooker, for example—but, ultimately, Darwin was the sole author. An introduction to The Origin of Species cannot ignore this fact. It is foolish to pay insufficient attention to the community who helped Darwin and it is equally foolish to gloss over the singular genius of Darwin.

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