by Rebecca Stott.
Charles Darwin's eight-year barnacle odyssey.
Having come up with his big idea of Natural Selection, Charles Darwin dithered for 20 years before publishing. Partly, this was because he knew his theory would be controversial, and Darwin didn't like controversy, but Darwin also felt he needed to do more research, and to establish himself as an expert in species classification—which is how he came to spend eight years looking at barnacles.
Even Darwin fanatics who have, like me, read Darwin's correspondence for the barnacle years, must have found their eyes glazing over at some points. For the non-specialist, barnacles are not the easiest animals to get excited about, and Darwin's writing is very technical. Rebecca Stott's book, however, places Darwin's barnacle work in context, skirts round the more technical stuff, and turns out to be surprisingly enjoyable.
There are plenty of full-blown Darwin biographies available; I hope this book will begin a trend for more detailed analyses of specific periods in Darwin's life aimed at the general reader.