BOOK REViEW: Darwin’s Barnacle, Rebecca Stott

Mr Arthrobalanus: “a minute marine monument to mutability.” R. Stott.

Another archival review, once again from the period around or shortly after Darwin’s bicentennial (2009), brought over to my blog on account of recently reading and really enjoying Peter Burke’s The Polymath.

In this wonderful book Rebecca Stott relates the tale of Darwin’s foray into marine biology; how it came about and where it lead, setting it all in a beautifully rendered portrait of Darwin’s personal, family, and socio-cultural context.

Connecting the various epochs of Darwin’s life, Stott skilfully tells a fantastic story, of how the disaffected ex-medical student, embarked on studies for a career as a clergyman, instead pursued his natural-historical instincts, ‘transmutating’ himself (and indeed all of us) in the process.

Little did Darwin’s father realise, when he finally acquiesced to uncle Josiah Wedgewood’s support for Charles’ wish to join the Beagle expedition – “Natural History … is very suitable to a Clergyman” – where it would all lead.

As another reviewer (on Amazon UK’s website) notes, the barnacles themselves aren’t quite as prominent in this book as the title might lead one to expect, but they do nonetheless provide a fantastic central theme from which to tell a really very engaging story about what amounts to almost the whole of Darwin’s life and work, but from a new and refreshing perspective.

I loved reading this, and found it exciting, engaging, informative, entertaining, well-written, and just plain good old-fashioned fun!

Rebecca Stott.

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