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How to Read Darwin

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The first two chapters of Origin are on the topic of biological variation. In the first chapter Darwin discusses what breeders had learned (Variation Under Domestication) and the second chapter discusses biological variability in the wild (Variation Under Nature). The two chapters serve as a good summary of what was known at the time, but it’s slow going as the material does not seem to advance Darwin’s thesis very well. In these chapters Darwin is, among other things, introducing the reader to the idea that what we observe today as distinct species, and the labels we give them, are rather arbitrary. What we are seeing is a snapshot at a particular point in time, but over eons of time the designs of the species are fluid. The boundaries shift and new species emerge as the picture gradually changes. The reading is a bit tedious, but as these first two chapters close Darwin pivots, and makes his first important move.  Read more


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