The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species as Edited for Modern Readers

Jan A. Pechenik, Tufts University

Jan A. Pechenik, Tufts University

The Readable Darwin: The Origin of Species as Edited for Modern Readers

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The Origin of Species is one of the most influential books ever written. Not only has it inspired an incredible amount of scientific research on a remarkable number of different topics, but it laid a foundation for all modern arguments about organismal diversity. It is also a sterling example of...

 CLICK 'READ MORE' FOR LINKS TO DRAFTS OF NEW CHAPTERS 

The Origin of Species is one of the most influential books ever written. Not only has it inspired an incredible amount of scientific research on a remarkable number of different topics, but it laid a foundation for all modern arguments about organismal diversity. It is also a sterling example of scientific thinking at its best. Darwin is very clear about his evidence, but also very clear about the things he doesn’t yet understand, even those that might pose problems for his thesis.

Unfortunately, his paragraphs are often very long; the sentences are often unwieldy and difficult for modern readers to follow; and Darwin assumes that his readers know a lot more about the people and organisms he talks about than most modern readers do. Although The Origin is widely known, it is now rarely read.

This new book covers the first eight of The Origin’s fifteen chapters, focusing on variation, the inheritance of variation, and the action of selection in bringing about major changes in the way that organisms look and behave. The product of careful editing of Darwin’s sixth and final edition (published in 1872) into more readable prose, the book includes numerous helpful drawings and photographs. Dr. Pechenik’s goal is to enable more people—including high school and college students—to read and understand this fascinating and important book, and to enjoy doing so.

Every page of Darwin’s book has been painstakingly rewritten: long paragraphs have been broken up, sentences have been shortened and reorganized, and weak verbs have been replaced with stronger verbs. The various people that Darwin mentions have been identified, and his terminology and the logic of some of his arguments have been clarified, all to make Darwin’s points clearer to today’s readers while retaining the flavor of the original Origin. In addition, occasional footnotes clarify issues about which Darwin was uncertain or mistaken.


Jan Pechenik is currently reworking Chapters 9–15 of Darwin’s Origins of Species for The Readable Darwin.We are providing drafts of these chapters here, as they become available. If you would like to suggest edits or point out errors, please contact him directly at: [email protected]. Also, if you have any suggestions for interesting photos to link to from the text, please include those as well (along with a brief description of the photo, the relevant page number, and the link).

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Jan A. Pechenik is Professor of Biology at Tufts University. He earned a B.A. from Duke University and an M.S. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then completed his Ph.D. in the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. He is author or coauthor on more than 125 research and review papers covering a number of areas in marine biology, including larval development, metamorphosis, and behavior. Dr. Pechenik has also authored Biology of the Invertebrates (7th edition, 2014, McGraw-Hill) and A Short Guide to Writing about Biology (8th edition, 2012, Pearson Longman), and served as Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Tufts from 1998–2001 and 2005–2008.

“Pechenik, a marine biologist, is the latest scientist to offer a personal ‘translation’ (p. xiv) of Darwin's classic, and several features immediately distinguish his volume from others. Darwin famously included just one illustration in the Origin, but Pechenik includes nearly a hundred, most of them in full color. The author places Darwin's most important statements in bold font, and sometimes defines obscure words in helpful footnotes. He adds a brief summary at the beginning of each chapter, and links to websites at the end of each chapter. He is explicit that he wants to help make Origin more accessible to more people, and in that task he succeeds. The volume may well serve as a helpful guide to the uninitiated.”
—Abraham Gibson, The Quarterly Review of Biology

“The members of my lab and I read and discussed The Readable Darwin for our weekly lab meetings during fall quarter, 2014 at UC San Diego, and we loved it! My lab is made up of many PhD, MS, and undergraduate students, and not many of us had read Charles Darwin's original text as it is not especially inviting to a modern audience. However, Dr. Pechenik's inclusion of numerous photos and his smoothly written prose make Darwin's classic truly enjoyable and entertaining to read. Dr. Pechenik's edits take nothing away from Darwin's work and his use of modern language will open the door for many more readers. I highly recommend this as required reading for budding and experienced evolutionary biologists and ecologists, and for anyone interested in a better understanding of both Darwin the man and his essential text.”
—Carolyn M. Kurle, University of California, San Diego

“I appreciate Pechenik's originality and degree of daring in proposing this book, and I find his idea of making Darwin's work more accessible to people inspiring. Pechenik's writing is lucid, his reorganization of sentences and paragraphs is done with much thought and care, and he is clearly delivering on his vision.”
—Adi Livnat, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Companion Website (sites.sinauer.com/readabledarwin)

The companion website includes all of the links and videos referenced in each chapter of the book.