What Darwin Wrought

Charles Darwin was a respected scholar and scientist well before the 1859 publication of his best-known book, On the Origin of Species. He made his original reputation as a geologist, by providing a plausible (and correct) hypothesis about the formation of coral reefs. He then wrote about other geological topics such as volcanoes before turning his hand to biology. Darwin was a meticulous observer of nature (as seen in his four-volume study of the anatomy and physiology of barnacles, and in his research on orchids) but also an experimentalist: at his country estate he had not only a small laboratory but also sufficient land to conduct experiments that required growing plants. He maintained voluminous correspondence with scientists of his day, and because he was so meticulous in his record keeping, much of it remains for scholars to study (Burkhardt and Smith 2002).

On the Origin of Species was Darwin's ninth book of an eventual total of nineteen books and monographs. The first printing of 1,250 copies of Origin sold out rapidly, bought not only by scientists but also by educated laity and clergy. It sold steadily over the years, which allowed Darwin to make corrections and small modifications in subsequent editions. There were six editions in all.

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