Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blogging the Origin

John Whitfield, a London-based science writer is reading a chapter of the Origin each day until Darwin's 200th birthday and is going to be blogging on the experience. I for one will follow his progress with great interest.

Here is the advice I provided in the comments on his blog:

I applaud your efforts. I first read the Origin five years ago in the run-up to my Inaugural Lecture and was surprised how contemporary much of it seemed, particularly when viewed in the light of my own field (bacterial genomics) about which Darwin could have known nothing. Having said that, some parts are hard-going!

If you, or anyone else, wants to supplement your reading of the Origin by having someone read it to you, then one good place to start is Richard Dawkins' five hour abridged audiobook version, which you can get from iTunes (at least in the UK) from here. Also worth a look for the less brave is the Penguin abridgment On Natural Selection. If you want someone to hold your hand while reading, try How to Read Darwin by Mark Ridley or Janet Browne's Darwin's Origin of Species, a Biography.

For the completist, a full 19-hour audio version of the Origin is available from Darwin Online, but as it is computer- generated it is hard work to listen to. More palatable is the Librivox audiobook version, but the readers are amateurs and tolerability varies from chapter to chapter.

I briefly discuss Darwin's use of language in the Origin in my own book The Rough Guide to Evolution and provide a one-page summary, which I won't share here for fear of giving away the plot ;-)

If you want a completely barking mad approach to the Origin, you should try listening/watching The Origin of Species in Dub, a celebration of Darwin's masterpiece through the medium of reggae music, which I created with a Jamaican friend a few years back. Currently, Canadian Lit-Hop artist Baba Brinkman is creating The Rap Guide to Evolution for our celebrations in Birmingham this year. He is also mapping each chapter heading from the Origin on to a separate Rap music track. I am very much looking forward to it. And of course to hearing your thoughts on The Origin as you go through it chapter by chapter!


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed listening to Richard Dawkins' audiobook version.

Jonathan Badger said...

The problem I have with the Origin is its organization -- all that boring stuff about pigeons(!) up front before any interesting science is discussed in chapter 4.

Yes, I *understand* that Darwin felt the the pigeon examples helped his case -- I'm not saying they should have been left out, but he should have highlighted natural selection from the get-go and moved the pigeons to a "supporting materials" appendix.

Mark Pallen said...

Verŝajne, vi legis ĝin en la malĝusta lingvo. Jen:

Jonathan Badger said...

Nu, kolomboj ja estas pli interesaj ol "pigeons" :-)