Adam Gopnik writes in the Oct. 23rd New Yorker about Darwin's writing period after the Beagle and before Origins (which is to say, roughly through the 1840s and into the later 1850s). His essay is more or less an appreciation for Darwin's literary skill, that skill being that he could present his points in Origins in just the right way. Such a task was not trivial. With Gopnik's appreciation - which, I don't know entirely why Adam Gopnik, who generally writes about other stuff (you know, like France and stuff) is writing this, but be that as it may - you get a nice feel for the importance of writing skill and the marvel that Darwin was able to pull it off as he did.
The recent publication of From So Simple a Beginning, edited by E.O. Wilson, and containing four of Darwin's volumes, appears to be the spur for the essay.
Here is a healthy bibliography on Darwin, taken solely from the piece. A nice reading list for the upcoming holiday season, for those interested in the history of science or just the Darwin industry. And these to match the multi-volume publication of his correspondences and the recent publication of his works on-line:
1. From So Simple a Beginning, edited by E.O. Wilson. Contains "The Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle" (1845), "On the Origin of Species" (1859), "The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex" (1871), and The Expressions of the Emotions in Man and Animals" (1872).
2. Janet Browne, Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002) and Darwin: Voyaging (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996 [paperback]). These are considered the definitive biographies of Darwin, and Browne his definitive biographer (as of our current era; it'll change in another generation) -- something I made note of in a post a while ago and John Lynch, over at Stranger Fruit, helpfully seconded.
3. Jenny Uglow, The Lunar Men (New York: FSG, 2002) (Gopnik rightly refers to this as "beautiful." It really is a fine book. It's about, per the Powell's blurb, "five of the leading members of England's 18th-century Lunar Society. The richly illustrated volume focuses on the projects and discoveries that resulted from the collaboration of manufacturer Matthew Boulton; physician, poet, and biological theorist Erasmus Darwin; inventor James Watt; potter Josiah Wedgwood; and preacher and chemist Joseph Priestly.")
4. Lyanda Lynn Haupt, The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks (New York: Little, Brown, 2006), which apparently has a "mind-changing chapter on Darwin's relation to the 'pigeon fancy'." (I don't know the book, though Gopnik's glowing summary of it does make it seem like a rewarding read.)
5. Gerald Weissman, Darwin's Audubon: Science and the Liberal Imagination (New York: Plenum, 1998) (A.G. actually refers to the title essay of this collection of essays, but here's the collected works citation.)
6. Gillian Beer, Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). Blurb from Amazon: "demonstrates how Darwin overturned fundamental cultural assumptions in his narratives, how George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and other writers pursued and resisted their contradictory implications, and how the stories he produced about natural selection and the struggle for life now underpin our culture. This second edition incorporates a new preface by the author and a foreword by the distinguished American scholar George Levine."
7. Randal Keynes, Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution (New York: Riverhead, 2002) (The author is both a great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin and a great-nephew of John Maynard Keynes)
8. George Levine, Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). And here's chapter 1: "Secular Re-enchantment".
Side bibliographic tidbit: Levine is also editor of One Culture: Essays in Science and Literature (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), which is the chronologically first of the two books titled "One Culture" that I've referred to in recent days. (The other, edited by Labinger and Collins, was referred to here.)