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On the luxury yachts, we supply bathrooms, slippers and a small pair of binoculars one per cabin. Once home, Charles Darwin wasted little time tackling the immense task of studying and categorizing the many specimens he had sent back during the voyage. By , the vestiges of natural selection had begun to materialize in his mind. One situation of particular note that he recorded in the Galapagos Islands fueled his speculations.

There, he noted that a species of bird indigenous to several of the islands in the archipelago seemed to have unique beaks depending upon which island they inhabited. In virtually all other aspects, the birds closely resembled one another — all members of a single species. Darwin noticed that the beaks in each case seemed most ideally suited to the particular size and shape of the seeds most plentiful on that particular island.

Clues such as this shaped his thought processes as he carefully distilled the notes entered in his journal during the voyage. Except for one or two close and trusted colleagues, Darwin kept his budding theory to himself for years to come for important reasons which I discuss shortly. Darwin published his book, Journal of Researches , in There appear random variations in this or that characteristic in a particular individual within a large population.

Such variations, beginning with that individual, could be passed along to future generations through its immediate offspring. If the random variation at hand proves to be disadvantageous, future generations possessing it will be less likely to survive than those individuals without it. That is precisely the thinking of one of the early supporters of evolution theory, the Frenchman, Lamarck, as expressed in his publication on the subject. Darwin did not know — could not know — the source of the random significant variations in species which were vital to his theory of natural selection.

James Watson and Francis Crick won the Nobel Prize in medicine and physiology for their discovery in of the DNA double helix which carries the genetic information of all living things.

The specific arrangement of chemical base-pair connections, or rungs, along the double helix ladder is precisely the genetic blueprint which Darwin suspected. Literally every characteristic of all living things is dictated by the genetic sequence of four different chemical building blocks called bases which straddle the DNA double helix. These can occur spontaneously during genetic DNA replication, or they can result from something as esoteric as the alpha particles of cosmic radiation hitting a cell nucleus and altering its DNA.

The end result of the sub-microscopic change might be trivial, beneficial, or catastrophic in some way to the individual. In , a sequestered Austrian monk published an obscure scientific paper in, of all things, a regional bee-keepers journal.

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Like Darwin, originally, Mendel had no formal scientific qualifications, only a strong curiosity and interest in the pea plants he tended in the monastery garden. He had wondered about the predominant colors of the peas from those plants, green and yellow, and pondered the possible mechanisms which could determine the color produced by a particular plant. To determine this, he concocted a series of in-breeding experiments to find out more. We know that only forty were printed and scarcely half of these have been accounted for. Certainly, no mention of it was ever made by Charles Darwin. And is it not a shame that Mendel lived out his life in the abbey essentially unknown and without due credit for his monumental work in the new science of genetics, a specialty which he founded?

Darwin finally revealed his theory of natural selection to the public and the scientific community at large in with the book publication of On the Origin of Species. He had held the framework of his theory close to the vest for all that time! Because to espouse evolutionary ideas in the middle of the nineteenth century was to invite scorn and condemnation from creationists within many religions.

She believed in an afterlife in which she and her beloved husband would be joined together for eternity. Charles was becoming less and less certain of this religious ideal as the years went by and nature continued to reveal herself to the ever-inquiring self-made naturalist who had set out to probe her ways.

Reading the Gravel Page: Lyell, Darwin, and Doyle

For this very personal reason and because of the professional risk of being ostracized by the community of naturalists for promulgating radical, anti-religious ideas, Darwin put off publication of his grand book, the book which would insure him priority and credit for one of the greatest of all scientific conclusions.

After stalling publication for years and with his manuscript only half completed, Darwin was shocked into feverish activity on his proposed book by a paper he received on 18 June, In his paper, Wallace outlined his version of natural selection which eerily resembled the very theory Darwin was planning to eventually publish to secure his priority. There was no doubt that Wallace had arrived independently at the same conclusions that Darwin had reached many years earlier.

Now Darwin felt completely cornered. The priority stakes were as high as any since the time of Isaac Newton when he and the mathematician Gottfried Liebniz locked horns in a bitter battle over credit for development of the calculus. In what became a frenzied period in his life, he reached out to two of his closest colleagues and trusted confidants, Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker for advice.

The Linnean Society presented their joint papers in their scientific journal on 1 July, Fortunately for Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace was of a conciliatory nature regarding the potential impasse over priority by way of his tacit acknowledgement that his colleague had, indeed, been first to formulate his opinions on natural selection.

Nonetheless, for Darwin, the cat was out of the bag, and the task ahead was to work full-steam to complete the large book that would contain all the details of natural selection and insure his priority. He worked feverishly on his book, On the Origins of Species , right up to its publication by John Murray. But for me his greatest book is Musicophilia.

Fascinating stuff in there, especially about tonal languages. For physics I recommend books by Jim Baggott.

Baggott is a very fine writer, but his books are certainly not light reading. Another recommendation—Breakfast with Einstein by Chad Orzel. An easy-to-read enjoyable book about despite the title everyday physics. Undeniable — by Bill Nye. Good for people with doubts about evolution, also some good criticisms of intelligent design. Maybe not, I would have to leave that to scientists to decide but hey, Stonehenge Decoded made the list… but definitely remarkably accessible and compelling. Explores the powerful effect the timing and interaction of body plan genes have on development.

Inoculation against woo and misapplied postmodernism. Something that outlines what we know about the history of the universe, and how we know it. I think this is much better than The Double Helix. Surprisingly good, particularly as I fond other works by him tedious. The life of Feynman. Also better than The Double Helix. Honourable mention for anything by Nick Lane. Honourable mention for anything by Sean M. The Origin Of Species — of course. Cliches, yes, but so true and written in his usual peerless style. Bit dated but a classic in the way he builds the case, step by step, of how and why physicists have a pretty good idea of what happened in the first three minutes.

Simply Einstein — Richard Wolfson. Hands down the clearest and most accessible account of Special and General Relativity. I need to belatedly add that WEIT is also one of my favorite books and it is definitely the most worn-out of my books. Marked up with notes, and now the back is held together with duct tape! But Jerry once signed it and drew a cat, so it is is also a highly prized possession.

After that, there are so many good options. Invertebrates are massively important in terms of their sheer diversity the great majority of all animal species and in terms of ecological function but they tend to be shaded out of popular literature and TV programmes by the vertebrates. Goulson describes his work on bumble bees with great charm and part of this charm relates to his willingness to write about his failures and mistakes as well as the successes.

His love of these charismatic insects is infectious and he does a great job of explaining both their ecological and economic importance and the seriousness of their predicament in our much-modified countryside. The book is wide ranging, covering spiders in human folklore and culture as well as spider biology with examples from around the world.

A joy to read. More recently, Davies has drunk deeply from the Templeton trough, and tries to reconcile science and religion, but back in the s, he was a pretty good popular science writer.


I read Stonehenge Decoded long ago. A copy of the exact same paperback as illustrated is still on my bookshelves.


I recall I was fascinated by the theory that the stones were aligned astronomically. It was maybe another decade before I came across anything by Richard Dawkins, who I regard as the most readable scientific author. David Attenborough would rival him in that respect. A Brief History of Time — read it, and got right through it. The Double Helix. Read it, of course. A highly entertaining book. As I recall, it explained all the technical bits sufficiently well — e. Of course this was with the benefit of hindsight.

Dealing with optical illusions and perception. Might be a bit dated now. Gordon manages to make the dry-as-dust subject of materials science fascinating, with asides into such things as biological structures, the history of warfare, why cathedrals fell down so relatively infrequently, and a thousand more.

Not really science, but Red For Danger by L T C Rolt, a history of British railway accidents and progressive safety measures over the years from to , I found quite fascinating. Not least in the way that combinations of adverse circumstances could sometimes conspire to defeat the most careful safety measures. The main factor in my finding a book interesting is that the writer has an engaging style and a knack for telling a story. Not all writers have this — and that includes a number of big-name writers of blockbuster novels.

That one is a classic. His book contains not only plenty of observations on the fauna, flora, and people but also many reflections on the biogeography of the region.

  1. Ancient Chiang Mai Volume 5 (Cognoscenti Books).
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And it is easy reading. Love many of the books already discussed here. And learned about a few that will now go on my already long list of books to read. I want to put in a word for a favorite of mine, both for what I learned from it as well as the quality of the writing. Well worth the Pulitzer that it won. And that experience has only deepened over time, Hawking wrote that and it did not even mention inflation that we now know solves his conundrums of where the universe came from and where it will go.

Of course the details of future and evidence came in later, still physicists agree that the classic Big Bang model without inflation he described did not explain the early universe in full. My first popular science book. At the time I thought it was fabulous. Probably aided by the evil weed. Also liked the Mind at Night by Andrea Rock. The Greatest Show on Earth is however pulp fiction. The only wish I have when it comes to his works is that he would have made it more clear that he is describing evolution by natural selection, and that this is not all there is to evolution.

These were written by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. And I have a great fondness for the cartoon guides by Larry Gonick and his co-authors. I especially like his history books. Surely it belongs somewhere on that list. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

By Charles Darwin

Sign me up! Copyright notice for material posted in this website. Why Evolution Is True. It does seem an odd choice, though Stonehenge Decoded by Gerald S. Hawkins Well, this book was really interesting for me because it was the first popular science book I had come across. The Double Helix by James D.

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