Adventure of a lifetime: Darwin and the Beagle by Alan Moorehead

Before the year is out, I am still intending to visit Down House in Kent, the house where Darwin lived with his family for forty years until his death. Until I make it down there one weekend, I am satiating my thirst for Darwin-lore through other means. Earlier this year I read The Rough Guide to Evolution. This week I saw Inherit the Wind at the Old Vic. And now I have just finished Moorehead’s marvellous companion to Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle.

Packed with paintings, illustrations, etchings and photographs, as well as Moorehead’s entertaining and finely crafted prose, this book is a real treasure. It is more an adventure story than a history book. Moorehead has a way of making the reader feel part of this fantastic voyage. By concentrating almost exclusively on the five years Darwin was at sea, the book can go into detail about the places he explored, the people he met and, of course, the creatures he found.

I would have welcomed a little more description of what it was like to be at sea, the rivets and awls of the journey, so to speak. Otherwise, I cannot fault Moorehead’s fascinating study.

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