A group of my students and I read this book this semester. During the discussion period for the final chapter, one of the students said, "I cried. This was the best book I have ever read." On the other hand, another student expressed great disappointment with the book. Another student quipped, "There weren't enough examples about pigeons." All in all, this book provides excellent food for thought today, just as it did 140 years ago when it was first published. I found Darwin's insights and synthesis of ideas, based on the accumulation of carefully collected observations combined with intellectual leaps to be inspiring. There are flaws in portions of the book to be sure, but this is a book that all biologists and biology students should have a chance to read and discuss. When you read it, make sure you read the entire book, discuss it with a friend or two as you read, and you can look forward to a perfect conclusion to this paradigm shifting book that continues to influence modern biological thought.
There is only one reason to read "On the Origin of Species" -- to discover how Darwin himself first articulated the most revolutionary scientific theory of all time. And to achieve this purpose there is only one means -- to read his original argument, set forth with the greatest force, clarity, and brevity in that very first edition published in 1859. So, unless you happen to have the $$$ to buy an actual first edition, this facsimile of the first edition is the *only* way to read Darwin: all other paperback "Origins" publish Darwin's latest edition. But even if you are not interested in the history of biology (scoundrel!), and you think you'll learn complete evolutionary theory from the "Origin" (fool!), you should get this edition -- and *not* later ones. Darwin's later editions of the "Origin" contain many errors that are not found in the original edition, including especially a progressive weakening of his original argument (evolution by natural selection) by the importation of Lamarckism (evolution by the inheritance of acquired characters). In these later editions, Darwin had been convinced by blockhead, mystical *physicists* that his *geology* was wrong (as if!), so he had to speed up the timing of everything, which meant smuggling in Lamarckism. Last, this volume contains an introduction from one of the most charming biologists and philosophers of all time -- Ernst Mayr. This intro alone is worth the price of the book.
This is a quick review of the book not a dissertation on Darwin or any other subject loosely related. At first I did not know what to expect. I already read " The Voyage of the Beagle: Charles Darwin's Journal of Researches" (see my review). I figured the book would be similar. However I found "Origin" to be more complex and detailed. Taking in account that recent pieces of knowledge were not available to Charles Darwin this book could have been written last week. Having to look from the outside without the knowledge of DNA or Plate Tectonics, he pretty much nailed how the environment and crossbreeding would have an effect on natural selection. Speaking of natural selection, I thought his was going to be some great insight to a new concept. All it means is that species are not being mucked around by man (artificial selection). If you picked up Time magazine today you would find all the things that Charles said would be near impossible to find or do. Yet he predicted that it is doable in theory. With an imperfect geological record many things he was not able to find at the writing of this book have been found (according to the possibilities described in the book.) The only draw back to the book was his constant apologizing. If he had more time and space he could prove this and that. Or it looks like this but who can say at this time. Or the same evidence can be interpreted 180 degrees different. In the end it is worth reading and you will never look at life the same way again.
I guess, we all encounter people who tell us about books, one MUST have read. In school we certainly must read some books and in every one or two years another anthology by some famous scholar is published full of books "every educated person must have read". Now, I don't believe that one has to read a single book if one doesn't want to. Whether you want to educate yourself or not and whether you want to include books in that education or not, is completely up to you. But still, I have to say, there are some books, which is always is a gain to have read. Darwin's "Origin" certainly is one of them. It inspired me to new thoughts and made me rethink some things that I had thought I had fully digested already.