Darwin came up with the theory of evolution, right? Wrong. Evolution, if not in the scientific mainstream, was part of the common intellectual currency of his time. His own grandfather espoused a version of it. What Darwin proposed was the blind, purposeless and godless mechanism by which it worked: natural selection.
Quammen pays due attention to Darwin's other scientific achievements: his naturalist's observations from the Beagle voyage, his research on barnacles and worms, and his foray into geology. He also presents an acute but sympathetic portrait of Darwin the man: intellectually proud but publicity-shy, an undemonstrative but loving family man, martyr to a mysterious vomiting ailment.
An elegant and readable account of one of the last great Victorian gentleman scientists, this should convince unbelievers – including around 60 per cent of all Americans, according to recent surveys – that Darwin was in all essentials right. Don't hold your breath, though.