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Authors: Kathleen Krull

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Charles Darwin*

BOOK: Charles Darwin*
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Table of Contents
Leonardo da Vinci
Isaac Newton
Sigmund Freud
Marie Curie
Albert Einstein
Charles Darwin
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Young Readers Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2010 by Viking, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
Text copyright © Kathleen Krull, 2010 Illustrations copyright © Boris Kulikov, 2010
All rights reserved.
Krull, Kathleen.
Giants of science : Charles Darwin / by Kathleen Krull ; illustrated by Boris Kulikov.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-44432-0
1. Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882—Juvenile literature. 2. Naturalists—England—Biography—Juvenile literature.
I. Kulikov, Boris, date. II. Title.
QH31.D2K86 2010
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For science teachers everywhere
“If I have seen further [than other people] it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”
—Isaac Newton, 1675
CHARLES DARWIN WAS an all-around nice guy.
Everyone liked him—he was modest, agreeable, a sweetheart. A respectable Victorian gent, devoted to his wife and kids. A mild-mannered soul who much preferred puttering in his garden to public speaking. A dutiful son, a loving brother. Kind to his servants. Allergic to conflict. Shy and afflicted with odd ailments, including vomiting so severe that he kept a bowl in his study so as not to disturb the family.
So how did this conventional, pleasant person end up forming what some say is the most influential theory in science, a theory that changed forever how we understand ourselves and the world? How did someone who avoided controversy at all costs become one of the most controversial men in history?
Basically, he couldn’t deny what he saw with his own eyes: Darwin was a keen observer of nature, and what he observed in his obsessive studies of wildlife ran counter to the story in the Bible of how all animals, including humans, were created right from the beginning in their final form. Darwin saw that they were continually changing and adapting. Clearly and simply (he’s perhaps the only giant of science whose books are read for pleasure), Darwin constructed a theory that explained
species change and adapt. His ideas form the basis of all modern biology—the theory of evolution.
Evolution has a particular meaning in biology: it is the process by which all living things change over time, enabling them to better adapt to their environment. Darwin showed how animals and plants evolved over many millions of years from common ancestors.
In centuries past, Galileo and Copernicus had displaced Earth as the center of the universe

and had encountered intense opposition. Darwin extended the scientific revolution they began

he proposed that man was not the centerpiece of creation, separate from and better than all other creatures. No, man was just another species in an ever-evolving world.
Darwin realized he was in for a fight. No wonder we have what is known as “Darwin’s Delay,” the weird gap in time before he finally published his book
On the Origin of Species
, at age fifty-one. So frightened was he of the backlash to his theory that it took him twenty years to go public with it. Even the process of
his momentous book was long and painful, marked with many bouts of vomiting. Finally, in 1859, gathering all of his courage, he published the book that set out his theory of evolution by natural selection.
His voluminous notebooks make it clear there was no single eureka flash of insight. A self-taught naturalist, he was drawn to all things in nature, from earthworms to earthquakes, stones to spiders, beetles and barnacles to babies. From what he saw, patterns began to emerge and come together into a theory. Darwin always considered his best trait to be perseverance. He was a huge reader, with a hugely open mind. He bombarded scientists all over the world with letters, firing away questions. He had a fierce dedication to getting things right.
Darwin’s genius was in connecting dots, which meant he had to see the dots in the first place. A friend said he was “all eyes.” Looking more closely and for longer than other people, he literally saw further.
Whose shoulders did Darwin stand on to see so far? First was an early biologist, Carl Linnaeus. In 1735 this Swedish botanist published
Systema Naturae
, in which he categorized the entire natural world. Linnaeus created the system of Latin names we still use—for plants, insects, and animals, and even man:
Homo sapiens
. Linnaeus divided up nature into three kingdoms with main branches for animals, plants, and minerals. From there, he subdivided organisms that were alike into increasingly smaller classifications. Linnaeus mapped the world into a treelike formation, an image that later would become very important to Darwin.
Darwin did not originate the idea of evolution. Before his time, most people believed that species were “fixed,” that they had all been created exactly as they were now. But by the early 1800s the idea that species changed over time was in the air, even discussed within his own family. A major cheerleader for it was none other than Darwin’s own quirky grandfather. In 1794, Erasmus Darwin published
, a book in which he clearly proposed that species were not fixed but transmutating or changing. In 1800, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, biologist and professor of zoology in Paris, began outlining the first complete theory of evolution. France, in fact, claims Lamarck (not Darwin) as the founder of evolution. Lamarck figured out that all current species had gradually developed from a few much simpler ones. But he had no real explanation for how and why this occurred. Because he guessed that all species had a natural drive to improve themselves, Lamarck believed creatures somehow willed changes that would be passed on to their offspring.
A more direct influence on Darwin was Charles Lyell, the eminent English geologist. His theories about continuous changes in the earth encouraged Darwin’s ideas about continuous biological change. Thomas Huxley, later to be known as Darwin’s Bulldog, wrote that Lyell was “the chief agent in smoothing the road for Darwin.”
Then there was Thomas Malthus, an English scholar of political economy. Malthus wrote about the consequences of human population increasing to the point where the number of people exceeds the available food supply. The result? People would have to compete for food, and those who lost the fight would not survive. Darwin saw that he could apply Malthus’s ideas to plants and animals.
Darwin’s genius idea was the theory of natural selection. Natural selection means that in nature, purely by chance, some members of a species will be born with traits that better enable them to survive long enough to bear young. Over time, after many generations, all members of that species will have inherited these “good” traits. They will have evolved into a new species.
What is a species? Creatures belong to the same species if they can reproduce with each other. Dogs

all breeds

are only one species. But lions and tigers are separate species.
Natural selection showed
evolution worked and explained why. Then Darwin supplied, in a way no one else could have, mountains of evidence for his theory.
“I am a complete millionaire in odd and curious little facts,” he cheerfully admitted. His interest in nature was unlimited (except for dissection of the human body), and it allowed him to see things more specialized people didn’t.
Darwin was lucky.
At the age of twenty-two, he was offered the chance to sail around the world on the HMS
. This voyage to exotic places jump-started his ideas about species.
He was also rich, always financially secure. He never needed a paying job; there was no university he had to answer to, no agenda other than his own, interpreting objectively what he observed. “A scientific man ought to have no wishes, no affections

a mere heart of stone,” he said, meaning a scientist had to remain objective, report what the evidence showed, even when the results were controversial.
Darwin lived in the right place at the right time

Queen Victoria of England, who ruled from 1837 to 1901, gave her name to an era of peace and prosperity, allowing for the rise of an educated middle class hungry for knowledge. The theme of this era was progress. It was during Victorian times that “natural philosophers” came to be called “scientists”; science became a profession, not a hobby.
And Darwin was just so nice. Lively and compassionate, he always found people wanting to help him, even as a teenage beetle collector. On the
’s marvelous voyage around the world, the entire crew and captain aided Darwin on his collecting missions. Once he published
, he retreated to his estate, leaving it to friends to publicize and defend his book.
Darwin hated confrontation. Yet he wasn’t a wimp. Rather, he said, “I am like a gambler, and love a wild experiment.” Indeed, he once wrote, “I cannot bear to be beaten.”
Up to the end of his life, Darwin adapted and evolved

and his ideas survived.
The Dashing Darwin Brothers
WORMS CHURNING SOIL under the lawn, butterflies and bees flitting about the wildflowers, beetles scuttling under logs, birds chirping everyone awake. . . . No wonder Charles Darwin first fell in love with the natural world in the very place he was born.
Nature thrived at The Mount, the Darwin family estate in rural Shrewsbury, England. Born there on February 12, 1809, the fifth of six children, Charles grew up in a large lovely house. It overlooked the river Severn, the longest river in Great Britain. Thanks to its moderate climate, Shrewsbury is called the “Town of Flowers.” As Darwin got older, nearby green fields and dense woods beckoned him to explore.
Shrewsbury is remote. It is one hundred and fifty miles from the teeming mass of humanity called London. With Great Britain poised to become the world’s first industrialized nation, factories, new canals, and bridges were springing up all over. But not in Shrewsbury. It remained a sleepy village. At Darwin’s birth, so much of what is part of modern existence

electricity, anesthetics, photographs, trains, telegraphs, and telephones

did not yet exist, but all would come during his life.
BOOK: Charles Darwin*
2.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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