Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, chapter by chapter.

origin354.jpg The book that turns 150 this year. Image courtesy of gds.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, the work in which Charles Darwin, an English naturalist, unveiled the theory that would change his field forever after.

In honor of the occasion, Seed Online is sponsoring a new blog on ScienceBlogs that will delve into the book, chapter by chapter. The blog, called Blogging the Origin, is written by John Whitfield, an ecologist and science writer based in London, England. Although Whitfield’s expertise lies in evolutionary biology, he has surprisingly never read the Origin. So, between today and February 12, Darwin Day, he will tackle, live and for the very first time, each of the book’s 15 chapters.

He explains the project’s purpose in his first post:

I have two main, and entirely contradictory, aims. First, I want to read Darwin from the perspective of someone reasonably clued up about evolution at the beginning of the twenty-first century, and see how the man’s ideas stand up in the light of what we know and think about genetics, ecology, evo-devo, paleontology and the like.

But I also want to imagine it’s the 24 November 1859, and that the copy I’ve just picked up at my local book shop (the 1982 Penguin Classics edition) is in fact one of the 1,250 first editions published that day…That evening, I settle in the parlour, put a taper to the gaslight, toss another urchin on the fire, and begin reading. Will I be thrilled? Horrified? Sceptical? Baffled? Bored? Let’s use part of our brains to try and ignore all that we now know about Darwin’s biography and legacy, pretend that this is our first encounter with his theory, and that evolution must stand or fall on the quality of the science and writing in the Origin.

We hope our readers, whether familiar with the Origin or not, will join Whitfield in his month-long journey through this classic work.

Originally published January 13, 2009

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