My ‘Darwin book’… a work in progress

When people found out I’d written my first book, they naturally assumed it would be about Charles Darwin. It wasn’t—although my hero had an uncanny habit of appearing out of nowhere in many of the chapters. When you’re a self-professed Darwin groupie, everything has a Darwin connection.

‘But your next book is going to be about Darwin, right?’ the same people asked.

What better excuse could I possibly need?

Darwin wasn’t above being an unabashed fanboy himself. As a student at Cambridge University, he planned an expedition to Tenerife in the footsteps of his hero Alexander von Humboldt. His plans were to alter dramatically when he received news of a vacancy aboard HMS Beagle. During the subsequent five-year voyage around the world, Darwin acquired a new hero: the geologist, and future close personal friend, Charles Lyell. Indeed, in many ways, Darwin was to become biology’s answer to Lyell. Both taught us to see the natural world as resulting from the long, slow accumulation of small changes. Aboard Beagle, young Darwin devoured Lyell’s controversial Principles of Geology. As he wrote to Lyell’s father-in-law a decade later:

I always feel as if my books came half out of Lyell’s brains […] for I have always thought that the great merit of the Principles, was that it altered the whole tone of one’s mind & therefore that when seeing a thing never seen by Lyell, one yet saw it partially through his eyes[.]

Well, exactly, Mr D! And that’s precisely the effect your own life and work have had on us.

My next book, Through Darwin’s Eyes, which is currently nearing the end of its first draft, explores how Charles Darwin looked at the world, and how he enabled us to look at the same world in a new, clearer light.

Darwin’s eyes

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There’s barely a page without a surprising fact…whether it’s about a vacuum flask, a hawk or a bilberry. […] Begin the book as you would a moorland walk, happy to put the route map away and just follow where the sheep trods take you—then you’ll likely find the surprising turns and unexpected views a suitable reward.

Nick Small, Caught by the River

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On the Moor