Blogging the Origin

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Chapter 5: Laws of Variation

To a man with a hammer, said Mark Twain, everything looks like a nail. The better your hammer, I would add, the more nail-like everything looks. In natural selection, Darwin had crafted one of the best hammers of all time. And in chapter 5 of the origin, ‘Laws of Variation’, you can hear him umming…

Chapter 4: Natural Selection

Mathematicians and physicists speak of a result ‘falling out of the equations’, implying that if you set things up properly, the rest takes care of itself. Chapter 4 of the Origin, ‘Natural Selection’, is where evolution falls out of the machinery that Darwin has spent the three previous chapters assembling. And I hate to say…

Chapter 3: Struggle for Existence

If, so far, you’ve been finding Mr Darwin’s book tough going (it’s OK, there’s no shame in admitting it), here’s what you should do: skip all that flannel about variation, and start here. This is where it gets serious.

Chapter 2: Variation Under Nature

Here’s a project for a playful biology grad student with some time on his or her hands. Take chapter 2 of the Origin of Species, ‘Variation Under Nature’, and modernize the language. Toss in a few figures and some contemporary citations. Give the result a title like ‘A routemap for biodiversity research 200 years after…

Man, this guy didn’t know anything.


Among the small thrills of encountering canonical works for the first time – Homer, say, or the King James Bible, or Star Wars – are the moments when you come across some turn of phrase so well-used it has been worn flat into the surface of everyday speech and think: so that’s where that comes…

Coming out

Hi! My name is John. I’ve got a PhD in evolutionary biology, and I’ve spent much of the past decade writing about evolutionary ideas, as applied to everything from literary criticism, to language, to anti-terror policy, and even on occasion to biology. And I’ve got a confession – I’ve never read the Origin of Species.