by Charles Darwin.
Darwin's first masterpiece.
OK, confession time: I have been a Darwin groupie for well over 20 years, but this is the first time I've ever read his second (or possibly third) most famous book from cover to cover. In my defence, I had already read his Beagle diary upon which The Voyage of the Beagle was closely based, but I'd never got round to reading the finished product.
And the good news is, it's an utterly wonderful book. Well, I would say that, wouldn't I? But it is. Honestly. Years before Darwin published his famous theory of evolution by means of Natural Selection, he was already a household name, thanks to the popularity of The Voyage of the Beagle. He was one of the great travel writers of his day, and his 1839 book is still a real page-turner. I mean, how's this for an opening?
After having been twice driven back by heavy southwestern gales, Her Majesty's ship Beagle, a ten-gun brig, under the command of Captain Fitz Roy, R. N., sailed from Devonport on the 27th of December, 1831. The object of the expedition was to complete the survey of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, commenced under Captain King in 1826 to 1830, - to survey the shores of Chile, Peru, and of some islands in the Pacific - and to carry a chain of chronometrical measurements round the World.
…it's like something out of a Ripping Yarns adventure story.
Throughout the book's pages, we travel with Darwin and his Beagle shipmates on their five-year voyage of discovery, as they explore strange new world, seek out new life and new civilisations, and boldly go where few men had gone before. We meet with savages; ride with gauchos; journey through jungles; observe, capture and occasionally eat exotic creatures; witness volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis; uncover strange, giant fossils; and even get to be rude about Australia.
What's not to like?
The Voyage of the Beagle has been in print for over 150 years, so there are losts of different editions available, and you should be able to pick up a copy in any good new or second-hand book shop. Here, though, are a few links to places where you can obtain a copy: