• The Autobiography of Charles Darwin

  • By: Charles Darwin
  • Narrated by: Kevin Theis
  • Length: 2 hrs and 19 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (44 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Darwin wrote the text, which he entitled "Recollections of the Development of My Mind and Character", for his family. He states that he started writing it on about May 28, 1876, and had finished it by August 3.

Public Domain (P)2018 Bassett Publishing

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Charles Darwin

This book is about the authors accomplishment in life and let us know more about who he was.

3 people found this helpful

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An amusing peek at Darwin's personality

THE NARRATION: Kevin Theis's narration suits this book well, in my opinion, because Darwin wrote it as a somewhat rough and candid account of his life. Theis does a good job of putting the right amount of emotion and energy into the text, illustrating the odd balance of English formality and good-humored, off-the-cuff wit that exists in Darwin's own words. Not everyone will like Theis's narration, but I think to be fair the element of monotony in his voice fits the erudite English style of Darwin himself. Thus, to some extent, the awkwardness of the prose is really a characteristic of nineteenth-century English writing, not something introduced by the narrator out of nowhere.

The narrator also does a particularly nice job of inserting certain names and details about persons into the text. Darwin's original text was so informal that many people were referred to by one name, without further explanation. The editor's footnotes are often necessary to know whom he is discussing. Without the footnotes, the text would be vert confusing if not for the narrator skillfully inserting these details into the main text.

THE BOOK: Darwin's autobiography was originally written for his children, and this fact gives it a curious and enticing candor that makes it rather fun. He will at times drone on about typical details in his intellectual formation, but then he suddenly slips into a hilarious anecdote about something stupid that he did. In this way, he often reveals himself in a very real and even relatable manner. You see Darwin as a rather ordinary man, even one who was lacking in many ways, but whose particular talents happened to be tremendously useful. He was not some divine genius, but a man with an exceptional drive for collecting and cataloging data. Not only would he never have amounted to such greatness without the influence and direct aid of others, but he also could not have succeeded without the wealth and privilege of his family and the servants who did his day-to-day chores.

To be clear, the book is not always candid. I do believe that at times Darwin is still trying to save face and present himself in a certain way--we all do it. Thus he does not tell us everything. He makes plenty of self-deprecating statements meant to convey humility, which do not always seem perfectly credible. Moreover, he has a a well-known habit of hyperbolic speech in negative statements, so that for example he talks about his grandfather's work as being "Of NO importance compared to..." Some readers take this too literally. If you read his words as a whole, "no importance" turns out to mean just "less importance." It's key to get a sense of Darwin's style and voice. After all, the details of his life are written in plenty of other books. The value of this autobiography is not dates and events, but rather a glimpse at Darwin as a person.

THE DOWNSIDE: Darwin's son Francis originally edited the autobiography for publication. As it was not written for the public, he added notes indicating the names and brief descriptions of the persons mentioned. However, more importantly, under the guidance of his mother he omitted large portions that they did not want others to read. The official reason was that these were of a family-related nature, and thus they excised a portion where he talks about how much he loves his wife and children. However, correspondence shows that they actually omitted several portions not because they related to family, but because Darwin went so off-script that his wife was worried about him offending others, including their religious friends.

By the end of his life, Darwin's views on religion had wandered so far away from traditional Christianity that he had become even somewhat antagonistic. He still believed in a God and was effectively a Deist, but he had become ever more closed off to religion, despite having many religious friends and supporters. (Contrary to popular belief, many of Darwin's early supporters were religious, and many of his early opponents objected to him not on religious grounds but on scientific grounds.)

The 1969 edition, edited by Darwin's granddaughter Nora Barlow, adds the omitted sections back into the text and shows from documentary evidence why they had been removed. This version is far superior, because they contain Darwin's most candid and direct statements about religion.

Unfortunately, the Audible version is based on the earlier, censored edition of the autobiography. As far as I am aware, none of the Audible editions follows Nora Barlow's text. Barlow's text is available for free elsewhere on the web, but sadly it isn't a part of the audiobook.

One last note: Don't listen to this to look for dirt on Darwin. Darwin is far from perfect, but the scientific and theological issues about evolution cannot be solved by pointing to the stupid things he did as a kid. Secondly, don't listen to this just to get the historical facts of his life. Yes, it has facts, but it's really more about his personal relationships. Lastly, don't think you're going to meet some Indiana-Jones-esque scientific hero on his swashbuckling adventures. Most of his life is relatively boring. The amusing anecdotes have to do with rather mundane things, not with some exciting plot twist. In this end, this is more a book for scholars than for popular consumption, but it is more accessible than Darwin's other works.

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Interesting

I thought this autobiography was interesting for the majority of it. The narrator talked as if in a hurry or very excited all through the book and I didn’t care for that.

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A great historical document...

Darwin's autobiography is a great historical document in which he opens the door to his day and also some of his contemporaries to the reader.

Personally I find Kevin Theis' way of narrating rather monotonous - but content wise the book was so much fun to listen to.

To me it was fun to find out that he liked parties and found Shakespeare (some of whose works I like a lot) "intolerably dull".

Also he describes his theory to some extent and explains his manner of writing. Recommended.

This book was given to me for free at my request and I provided this voluntary review.

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A Life Well Led

As I worked my way into this autobiography, it seemed pretty dull- a collection of anecdotes. But surprise, as I finished the short listen, I felt like a picture had emerged of a man with a commendable attitude toward his work and his life. He wrote his autobiography as he worked , by giving multiple examples of how he approached life and work - using induction rather than deduction to reach his conclusions.So I finished the book with a big thumbs up and thinking that I would like to listen to it again some day.

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That was fun.

A nice short trip through an interesting mans life. Well worth the time and money.

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puppy beater

so id I have a kid who beats dogs, is a serial killer of birds and is into his cousin, I shouldnt worry too much cause they might be the next Darwin?