The Reluctant Mr. Darwin is a short, essayistic biography of Charles Darwin, one of the gentlest and most cautious men ever to confront the world with a deeply radical, dangerous idea. The idea in question, of course, was evolution by natural selection. My account of Darwin's life focuses on the conception, development, and announcement of that idea, and on the personal tribulations that he experienced while incubating it. Why did Darwin delay publication for twenty-one years? Why did he draft an early sketch of his theory and then file that away, with a note to his wife in case he died? Why did he digress for eight years into barnacle taxonomy? Why did he vomit so often? Why was his great book, On the Origin of Species, written in a hurry after two decades of procrastination? There were reasons, and the exploration of those reasons was my way of trying to capture the essence of him and his work.
In the early weeks of 1837, Charles Darwin was a busy young man living in London. Ambitious, intellectually awakened from a drowsy postadolescence, excited by opportunity, he was newly defining his life. He didn't yet recognize the awful scope of the idea that was growing inside him. On February 12, he turned twenty-eight. . . ."
--from The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, p. 20
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin was published, in 2006, as a title in the Great Discoveries series from Atlas Books and W.W. Norton. It was written in response to an invitation from James Atlas, the founder of that series, who persuaded me that a radically concise and somewhat opinionated portrait of Charles Darwin, who had already been much biographied, could offer unique value to readers. You might ask: "Is this 'Darwin for Dummies'?" No, this is Darwin for smart people who are busy.
On the Origin of Species, The Illustrated Edition, is Charles Darwin's great book, as he wrote it, except festooned in this volume with lively filigree--historical prints, old photographs, graphic figures, cartoons from the time, portraits of Darwin and his colleagues, extracts from his letters and his Beagle journal, assorted other bells and whistles. I served as general editor of the book, which allowed me to supervise the selection of art, to contribute an introduction and a time-line of Darwin's life, and to insist that we use the first-edition text of On the Origin, which is the freshest and most audacious of the six versions Darwin released during his lifetime.