Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226523118 Published March 2018
E-book $10.00 to $50.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226523255 Published March 2018 Also Available From
E-book Retailers: Amazon Kindle Apple iBooks B&N Nook Google Play Kobo Library Vendors: EBSCO

Darwin’s Evolving Identity

Adventure, Ambition, and the Sin of Speculation

Alistair Sponsel

Darwin’s Evolving Identity

Alistair Sponsel

336 pages | 13 color plates, 27 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Cloth $50.00 ISBN: 9780226523118 Published March 2018
E-book $10.00 to $50.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226523255 Published March 2018
Why—against his mentor’s exhortations to publish—did Charles Darwin take twenty years to reveal his theory of evolution by natural selection? In Darwin’s Evolving Identity, Alistair Sponsel argues that Darwin adopted this cautious approach to atone for his provocative theorizing as a young author spurred by that mentor, the geologist Charles Lyell.  While we might expect him to have been tormented by guilt about his private study of evolution, Darwin was most distressed by harsh reactions to his published work on coral reefs, volcanoes, and earthquakes, judging himself guilty of an authorial “sin of speculation.” It was the battle to defend himself against charges of overzealous theorizing as a geologist, rather than the prospect of broader public outcry over evolution, which made Darwin such a cautious author of Origin of Species

Drawing on his own ambitious research in Darwin’s manuscripts and at the Beagle’s remotest ports of call, Sponsel takes us from the ocean to the Origin and beyond. He provides a vivid new picture of Darwin’s career as a voyaging naturalist and metropolitan author, and in doing so makes a bold argument about how we should understand the history of scientific theories.

Part I Theorizing on the Move

1 Darwin’s Opportunity
     Coral Reefs as Objects of Fascination and Terror
     Studying Reef Formation as an Objective of the Beagle Voyage
     Darwin’s Training in the Sciences
     Enthusiasm for the South Sea Islands
2 An Amphibious Being
     Darwin’s Approach to Scientific Work at the Beginning of the Voyage
     Hydrography Becomes a Resource for the Naturalist
     An Ambitious Plan for Studying Zoophytes
3 Studying Dry Land with a Maritime Perspective
     Applying the Lessons of Hydrography to the Interpretation of Geology
     Elevation and Subsidence
4 The Making of a Eureka Moment
     The Dangerous Reefs of the Low Archipelago
     The View from Tahiti
     Theorizing Like Humboldt in a Floating Library
5 The Surveyor-Naturalist
     Darwin’s Sea-Level Study of the South Keeling Reef
     Seeing Underwater: The Hydrographic Survey at South Keeling
     Darwin’s Hydrographic Initiative at Mauritius

Part II Training in Theory

6 Lyell Claims Darwin as a Student
     Homeward Bound as an Aspiring Geologist
     Lyell as an Author
     Master and Student
     The Primacy of Geology in Darwin’s Private, as Well as Public, Activities
7 Darwin’s Audacity, Lyell’s Choreography
     Going Public
     Putting the Coral Theory to Work
     An Astonished Response from the Geological Elite
     Darwin’s Emergence as a Practitioner of Lyellian Geological Speculation
8 Burned by Success
     Darwin’s New Persona
     The Obligations of a Student to His Master
     The Beginnings of Darwin’s Anxiety about Speculation

Part III A Different Approach to Authorship

9 The Life of a Tormented Geologist (and Enthusiastic Evolutionist)
     Darwin’s Turn toward Empiricism and the Ideal of Comprehensiveness
     The Pressure of Public Expectations
     Lyell’s Appropriation of the Coral Reef Theory
     Studying Species as a Diversion from the Task at Hand
10 A Finished Task: Darwin’s Treatise on Coral Reefs
     The Space between Lyell and Darwin
     A Mountain of Facts
     The Theory Emerges
     The Immediate Reaction to Coral Reefs
     A Theory in Use and in Memory

Part IV Writing the Origin with His “Fingers Burned”

11 Atoning for the Sin of Speculation
     Balancing Speculation with Facts
     Rejecting Lyell’s Suggestion to Publish a “Sketch”
     Lyell Choreographs Another Debut
     Publishing an “Abstract” After All: On the Origin of Species
     Dealing with Darwin’s “Recollections”
     Lyell, Darwin, and Authorship
     Studying Practices, Learning about Theories
Review Quotes
Janet Browne, Harvard University
“This lively, revisionist study transforms what we know about Charles Darwin’s early years as a practicing scientist. We see Darwin as a bold young geologist, stunning the geological community with his innovative theory of coral reef formation, and as a new author eager to manage his growing reputation by strategizing with his friend and mentor Charles Lyell. Sponsel puts geology back into the story of species. More than this, this insightful book explores the deep, and often challenging, relationships between knowledge, theory, and publication in the world of nineteenth century science.”
David Kaiser, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
“How difficult it is to recapture the young Charles Darwin, first navigating the shoals of scientific theorizing and authorship, long before he became the Darwin of legend. Yet in this engaging and original study, Alistair Sponsel accomplishes just that, delivering fresh insights into Darwin’s own evolution. Absolutely fascinating.”
Jim Secord, University of Cambridge
Darwin’s Evolving Identity is an excellent—indeed outstanding—work of scholarship, which makes major interventions in the literature on Darwin and his theory, as well as setting these interventions in a broader context that will draw interest well beyond the specific world of Darwin studies.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit
Google preview here

Chicago Manual of Style

Chicago Blog: Biology

Events in Biology

Keep Informed