Reviews


REVIEWS

“Grant and Estes, the world’s authorities on Darwin in Galapagos, put readers in young Darwin’s mind and meticulously trace his every footstep. They have the most intimate knowledge about this archipelago and a heartfelt friendship with its most famous visitor. Darwin comes alive in this carefully researched book. A book every Galapagos traveler should read, as should anyone who wants to understand how Darwin became the first evolutionary biologist.”
Martin Wikelski, Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and Konstanz University

“This book is a tale of two journeys: Darwin’s in the islands, and the authors’ as they retraced his steps. Darwin’s, of course, was one of the most important series of footsteps in the history of human exploration. And the journey that Thalia Grant and Greg Estes have made is impressive because they have done so much legwork in the islands and the libraries, and have spent so much of their lives working in the archipelago. Outdoors and indoors, it seems to have been a labor of love.”
Jonathan Weiner, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book The Beak of the Finch

“This volume provides a timely and interesting account of a key moment in Charles Darwin’s life–and, it might be said, in the history of evolutionary biology. It is especially valuable to encounter the deep local knowledge that the authors bring to the locations they describe. The route Darwin took around the islands comes alive in this book.”
Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University, author of Charles Darwin: The Power of Place

“This is an engaging tour of Darwin’s explorations on Galapagos. This book provides the best description yet of Darwin’s trip through the islands. The authors have a remarkable familiarity with the places Darwin visited, and ably share that knowledge.”
Edward J. Larson, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Summer for the Gods

“The 2009 bicentennial year of Darwin’s birth saw a flurry of books celebrating his life. Because so much has already been written about Darwin, it is no surprise that most of these volumes cover familiar ground. Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World is an exception, providing new insights into an important period of Darwin’s life—the five weeks he spent exploring the Galápagos Islands in 1835. The authors have a unique perspective on this famous visit. Both are naturalists and have lived and worked on the islands for many years—Thalia Grant since 1973 and Gregory Estes since 1982.

The book has three parts. The first is a biographical sketch of Darwin’s early life. Although the authors are not historians, they draw upon the many good Darwin biographies for a readable account of his life up to his visit to the Galápagos. The second part covers his exploration of four of the 13 islands—Chatham, Charles, Albemarle, and James. Here the authors engage three tasks: first, an account of Darwin’s travels on the islands, what he did and saw and what he missed; second, the natural history of the islands as informed by modern geology, classification, and ecology; and, third, a conservation narrative. The final part of the book follows the continuing influence of the Galápagos on Darwin’s theorizing.

The second part of this book provides the most new insight. We learn, for instance, that Darwin became aware of geographic variation first among the mockingbirds of the various islands, rather than the finches as commonly supposed. The geographic differences among the various mockingbirds and finches, as well as among the tortoises, iguanas, and others, are well illustrated by the many photographs, drawings, and paintings included in the volume. The authors’ familiarity with the island geology, biogeography, and ecology is invaluable in understanding Darwin’s visit.”
Richard A. Richards, Quarterly Review of Biology September 2010

“Grant and Estes provide a vivid and accurate account of where Charles Darwin went on his 1835 visit to the Galapagos Islands. This is an important addition to the Darwin literature and to our knowledge of what Darwin did in–and how he was affected by–Galapagos.”
Duncan M. Porter, coeditor of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin

“The authors have provided a richly detailed and evocative description of Darwin’s route and experiences in the Galapagos Islands. In doing so they have made a significant contribution to Darwin studies and to the enjoyment of anyone who visits these places with their book in hand.”
Sandra Herbert, author of Charles Darwin, Geologist

“Naturalists Grant and Estes are longtime researchers and residents of the Galapagos. They bring to this account of Darwin’s adventures their intimate knowledge of the islands, enabling them to identify sites Darwin visited that previously were in doubt or misidentified. . . . Grant and Estes describe in detail the islands’ geographic and volcanic features as well as their many unique species of birds, reptiles and plants, both in Darwin’s time and today. . . . All fans of the great scientist will find this an engrossing account of what was probably the most important period in his life.”
Publishers Weekly

“This lavishly illustrated volume traces the epoch-making path that Darwin took through Galapagos in 1835 while he was the naturalist on HMS Beagle. Both authors are intimately familiar with the Ecuadorean archipelago from years of living and studying there. Grant arrived in 1973 with her parents, when they started their famous long-term evolutionary study of Darwin’s finches (described in Jonathan Weiner’s The Beak of the Finch). Estes arrived nearly ten years later to lead a major expedition. They place Darwin’s five weeks in Galapagos within the context of his entire voyage, the evolution of his thinking, and the intellectual climate of the times. All of that information is provided in much more detail elsewhere, so the authors’ noteworthy contribution derives from their meticulous use of Darwin’s notes and their intimate knowledge of the islands to reconstruct Darwin’s experience there. Parallel to this narrative is a current update on the archipelago’s wildlife. VERDICT This book is a must for die-hard Darwin fans and will appeal to those who enjoyed Weiner’s book and those by David Quammen (e.g., The Reluctant Mr. Darwin).”
Walter L. Cressier, Library Journal

“Readers feel they are walking in the steps of Darwin as he moves towards his radical ideas of natural selection and evolution. This is a model travel book. It contains all the Darwin-inspired traveller to the Galapagos Islands could want, including historic and contemporary illustrations and photos.”
Bruce Elder, Sydney Morning Herald

“In this work, naturalists Grant and Estes retrace Charles Darwin’s steps in the Galapagos, a region he initially visited after nearly four years on HMS Beagle. The authors include a discussion of Darwin’s early life and education, along with an account of his voyage before arriving on the islands. . . . The volume includes many excellent prints, photographs, and diagrams from Darwin’s time as well as present-day photographs, which should appeal to historians and naturalists.”
Choice

“The year 2009 marked the bicentenary of the birth of the naturalist Charles Robert Darwin. Numerous celebratory events took place and many publications emerged exploring the broad range of the man’s contributions to science. This book provides a welcome addition to that list, focusing on where Darwin went and what he actually collected and recorded during his short stay in the Galápagos Islands in 1835. The extended circumnavigation of the globe during the second voyage of HMS Beagle lasted almost five years. Yet for all the emphasized importance of his visit to the Galápagos, Darwin barely spent five weeks there.

The authors broadly divide their book into three parts. The first charts the lead up to Darwin’s visit, the second the time he actually spent in the volcanic archipelago, and the third the resultant implications of his collecting and observation there. Much of what appears in the first part is the well-rehearsed story of Darwin’s early education and influences. This will be very familiar territory to Darwin scholars, yet still useful in that there is a strong emphasis on exploring Darwin’s development as a field geologist. Furthermore, writing from the Galápagos perspective, we are introduced to the reason why this portion of the voyage was so important. Darwin’s travels and collecting in South America had followed in the footsteps of the celebrated French naturalist Alcide d’Orbigny. Darwin felt over-shadowed by this, and writing to John Stevens Henslow in 1832, bemoaned the fact that d’Orbigny would “… get the cream of all the good things before me …”. The Galápagos provided Darwin with effectively untrodden ground and fresh collecting opportunities, as d’Orbigny had not been there on his travels.

In Part 2, we are taken chapter by chapter, island by island on Darwin’s itinerary of the Galápagos. Each chapter begins with a clear map illustration of an island annotated with a timeline of where he was when. Again, the strength of this account lies in the fact that equal weighting is given to Darwin’s geological and zoological explorations. Much of what Darwin theorized about geology will probably come as quite a surprise to many. For example, on James Island (Santiago), he collected evidence to support his theory of the generation of different lavas from the same magma through fractional crystallization. Other observations relate to the formation and evolution of tuff cones from subaqueous through to terrestrial settings.

Part 3 provides insights into how the voyage after leaving Galápagos shaped Darwin’s thoughts and theories. Effectively he had almost a month before the next projected landfall at Tahiti to sort out, organize and ponder over his collections and notes from the archipelago. This period of reflection allowed Darwin to consider what he had done, and perhaps should have done relating to the sampling intensity and labelling of his collections. Long after returning to England, he encouraged others travelling to the islands to make collections which would augment his own and fill in gaps in knowledge from the places he didn’t get to or sample in sufficient depth.
At the back of the book, three appendices are provided for the reader’s benefit. The first of these is a useful guide to the names of the sites and various islands of the Galápagos. This covers the names used by those on board the Beagle, the additional names in circulation in 1835 and the modern Spanish names now employed. Appendix 2 is a helpful checklist of those biological entities and landforms in Galápagos which bear Darwin’s name in honour of his subsequent achievements. The third appendix provides the names of HMS Beagle’s complement of crew for the duration of the second voyage.”
Lyall Anderson, Isaac Newton Trust Research Fellow, University of Cambridge, The Paleontology Newsletter Number 73, 2010

“In Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World, authors K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes, both naturalists who have conducted research in the Galapagos for decades, embark on a historic recreation of Darwin’s 1835 visit in which they attempt to literally retrace his steps during the five weeks he spent there. The book doesn’t start with Darwin’s arrival in the Galapagos, however. First come three substantial chapters, one on Darwin’s life before he set sail on H.M.S. Beagle at age 22, and two on his experiences during the first few years of its voyage before reaching the islands. The authors draw on Darwin’s autobiographical writings and letters, as well as works by Janet Browne, Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Peter J. Bowler, James Secord, Sandra Herbert and others, to create a revealing personal, professional and psychological profile of the man who would so transform science and our place in the world. Grant and Estes portray Darwin almost as yet another fascinating Galapagos species, rafted to the islands from elsewhere only to undergo an intellectual transformation under their isolating influence.
These early chapters present no new revelations about Darwin’s upbringing and university years, but they are very valuable for the detail with which they illustrate how formative the early years of the Beagle’s voyage were in honing Darwin’s skills as a keen observer. The ship’s first stop was the desolate Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of Africa, where the bleak volcanic landscape foreshadowed what he would find in the Galapagos. Then as the crew of the Beagle spent three years charting the East and West Coasts of South America, Darwin went ashore for weeks and months at a time to explore and collect specimens in the rain forests of Brazil, the Andean elevations between Chile and Argentina, the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego. (Over the course of the entire voyage, prompted in part by miserable bouts of seasickness, he spent about two-thirds of the time—a total of 39 months—on land.)
Darwin’s journals document the changes in his observational style. His florid, often emotionally charged writing at the beginning of the voyage gave way to entries that were more concise and factual, although still intense. By the time Darwin had reached the Galapagos Islands, three years and nine months into the voyage, he was, as the authors point out, primed to make the most of his time there: He was “preoccupied with patterns of species distribution” and “had truly become a master theorizer.”
The section of the book detailing Darwin’s time in the Galapagos is divided into four chapters, each devoted to one of the four islands he visited—Chatham (San Cristóbal), Charles (Floreana), Albemarle (Isabela) and James (Santiago). A faithful, detailed recreation of Darwin’s course once ashore on each island had never before been attempted. The authors went about ascertaining what paths Darwin took by referring to his unpublished geology notes, Captain Robert FitzRoy’s log of the Beagle and the nautical charts of the area prepared by the crew, and by relying on their own familiarity with the topography, ecology, habitats and distribution of organisms on each of the four islands…
Two brief concluding chapters cover the remainder of the Beagle’s voyage and the ways Darwin revisited the Galapagos in his thinking as he considered the diversity of life after he got back home. Ultimately, the book’s focus on the Galapagos as a key window into Darwin’s life and thoughts is rewarding. With its numerous illustrations, photographs, maps, archival notes and sketches, and its day-by-day, step-by-step, island-by-island retracing of Darwin’s Galapagos explorations and thinking, Darwin in Galapagos is an important addition to the history of evolutionary thought.”
Rick MacPherson, American Scientist

“K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes’ narrative reconstruction of Charles Darwin’s 1835 exploration of the islands that are perhaps more than any other single geographic location most closely associated with his name is a remarkable work that expertly rejoins the man and the place, and adds to them both the results of recent scientific discoveries arising from his work to bring to readers one of the most intricate portraits of this pivotal moment in natural history yet written. Whether read on its own or in conjunction with The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin in Galapagos should be considered an essential book by anyone hoping better to understand the man, his work, and his continuing influence upon the scientific world today. (In addition to its interest and value to naturalists and historians of science, this would also make an excellent gift for lovers of travel literature.)”
John Riutta, The Well-read Naturalist

Darwin in Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World is an interesting book, published this year, that focuses on Darwin’s time in the Galapagos. Written by K. Thalia Grant (daughter of Rosemary and Peter Grant) and Gregory B. Estes, the book attempts to trace Darwin’s path through the Galapagos. I’ll say at the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It was well written and profusely illustrated. The book is divided into two parts. Part One, containing three chapters provides a historical overview of Darwin, beginning with his birth and ending shortly before the HMS Beagle reaches the Galapagos. Particularly strong are the sections dealing with Darwin’s experiences in Cape Verde, the Falklands, and South America in general. Part Two deals exclusively with tracing Darwin’s footsteps in the islands. The authors have done an exhaustive amount of research – consulting Darwin’s journals, research notes, and letters, as well as historical research by others (Sandra Hebert’s Darwin, Geologist for example) this combined with their own experiences in the Galapagos (both have spent a large amount of time in the Galapagos and have done research there as well) creates a compelling and authoritative narrative… The book is illustrated with a large number of drawings and plates, some of them by Darwin himself. Additionally, there are a number of appendixes on such things as island and sites in the Galapagos named after Darwin, a complete list of the crew of the HMS Beagle, and a list of all the vertebrate species collected in the Galapagos by the crew of the Beagle. All in all and interesting and engaging book. I highly recommend it! ”
Afarensis, FCD, Afarensis: Anthropology, Evolution, and Science

Darwin In Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World is an excellent resource for anyone interested in the Galapagos Islands. It is extremely well written by a couple who are intimately familiar with the islands, and their enthusiasm is infectious. They take you on a journey that is infinitely interesting and well researched. They actually spent several years following in Darwin’s footsteps which makes the book so fascinating. There are numerous maps which show in detail the routes taken by Charles Darwin on the four islands he visited. The photos of the flora and fauna are lovely, and the black and white photos compliment the text. I am leaving shortly to visit the islands and feel that this was a great help in preparing me for this unique experience. I will be taking this book along as an aid to help make my trip more inclusive and informative. Even if you are not traveling to Galapagos, I would eagerly recommend this book as the story is so well presented that you feel as if you have been there. I have read about the Galapagos for years, and this is one of the best of the lot; it satisfies the historian and the natural scientist alike. If there is any criticism, it would be that there aren’t enough photos of the landscapes and animals.”
J. A. Marsh, Amazon.com reviewer gave 5 out of 5 stars

“For readers interested in Charles Darwin or the Galapagos Islands or for those readers who have a naturalist bent, Darwin in Galapagos is an outstanding book. Ms Grant and Mr. Estes, a married couple, are naturalists with extensive experience on Galapagos. Ms Grant, in particular, must feel like a native because she is the daughter of Peter and Rosemary Grant, scientists from Princeton, who have spent a huge amount of time on Galapagos over the past several decades studying Darwin’s finches in amazing detail. I highly recommend Jonathan Weiner’s book The Beak of the Finch for those of you interested in evolution and Galapagos or who want to see how Thalia Grant’s parents spent their time.

As the subtitle indicates, Darwin in Galapagos is an effort to track Darwin’s footsteps through Galapagos when he spent five weeks there in 1835 during his voyage on the HMS Beagle. The authors give us background on Darwin’s early days in England, then spend a few chapters dealing with the voyage before it reached Galapagos, and then focus on his time in the islands. The last part of the book covers on a broad scale Darwin’s time back in England after the voyage as he struggled with understanding what his findings really meant. I found all of this to be interesting.

My favorite part was the chapters about his time in Galapagos. I spent some time there three years ago and found the islands to be fascinating places. I greatly enjoyed reading about the authors’ efforts to track Darwin and their descriptions of his investigations into the geology, flora, and fauna to be found in Galapagos. The book is well illustrated, gives detailed information, and is academic in nature. Lots of footnotes and references in the back.”
David Pruette, Amazon.com reviewer gave 5 out of 5 stars

“There are numerous books about Charles Darwin and also about Galapagos. There have been none available until now that delve so completely into Darwin’s experience in Galapagos. The gap has now been filled by Darwin In Galapagos: Footsteps to a New World It is a very readable yet scholarly approach to what Darwin actually observed in the islands. Having lived and worked in Galapagos for many years, I have heard and read much speculation about Darwin’s actual time in the islands. Through Grant and Estes on site investigation and thorough research, many open questions have been answered and even a few myths dispelled in this book. The liberal use of quotations from Darwin, Fitzroy, and others adds to the personal feel of the book. Those seeking more information or evidence are presented with a very complete set of references and notes at the back of the book which are on their own quite interesting. In short, an enjoyable and informative read that gives a unique and accurate perspective on Darwin’s time in Galapagos. ”
R. Polatty, Galapagos Naturalist, Amazon.com reviewer gave 5 out of 5 stars