One of the more unfortunate side-effects of the endless creationist controversy is that it dehumanizes Darwin: he either becomes a biological prophet – the Newton of life – or a Faustian devil, a thinker who sold his soul to discredit god. What gets lost is Darwin’s astonishing scientific process, the stubborn way he solved the history of life by trying to make sense of its strange details. (Among creationists, it’s also a truism that Darwin did no experiments, that the “theory” of natural selection was never empirically tested. Needless to say, they are magnificently wrong.) David Quammen’s elegant little biography of Darwin draws on no new biographical sources, but it compensates with a portrait so poignant and personal that, after you finish the book, you feel as if you’ve spent a few hours chatting with Charles himself. For a wonderful interview with Quammen, check out Robert Krulwich’s latest NPR piece. You’ll learn what a floating asparagus has to do with natural selection, and how Francis Crick is tenuously connected to the theory of evolution.