The Voyage of the Beagle, also known as Darwin’s Journal of Researches, is a vivid and exciting travel memoir as well as a detailed scientific field journal covering biology, geology, and anthropology that demonstrates Darwin’s keen powers of observation, written at a time when Western Europeans were still discovering and exploring much of the rest of the world.
Darwin sailed on the Beagle, a small three-mast sailing ship, and circumnavigated the globe.
Over five years, he visited numerous islands in the Atlantic and Pacific and extensively surveyed the east and west coasts of South America. He hiked up and down mountains, traveled on horseback across the arid Argentinean plains, crossed the lonely Peruvian desert, and trekked the grandiose Chilean Cordilleras.
He thought nothing of packing a train of mules for a two-month overland journey across the Andes going from Chile to Argentina and back again. On all his land expeditions he hired local guides, from Gauchos in Argentina to South Pacific islanders in Tahiti.
Darwin's accounts of his expeditions are not only interesting adventures, they are also good portraits of the people he met. These include Latin American governors and generals, Argentinean ranchers, very primitive natives on Tierra del Fuego, and so on.
Darwin also presents his great insight: that geographical isolation contributes to speciation. He came by this insight when it was pointed out to him that nearly identical species were seldom found on the same island.
Darwin is justifiably considered to be the greatest biologist of all time, and The Voyage of the Beagle gives us a chance to see the world through his eyes at the very beginning of his scientific career.
His travel notes and descriptions of the people he met, are the most charming aspect of the book. The portraits Darwin paints are invariably sympathetic to human nature.
Certainly Darwin was a man of his times and valued civilization very highly, and believed that all men could find happiness and enlightenment, and that all men had a right to be free.
He despised slavery, and wrote eloquent passages attacking the prevalent institution. From this Voyage, we come to know a dynamic, adventurous young man, and a thoughtful liberal one who would only later shake our view of our place in the world.
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