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Darwin

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Published on Jun 24, 2008

Happiest at home with his notebooks and his microscope, he shunned the public eye. Controversy made him ill. This brilliant observer of nature kept his most original and revolutionary idea under wraps for decades. Yet today, two centuries after Charles Darwin's birth, nearly everyone knows his name. What did Darwin do, and why does he still matter so much?

Keenly observing nature in all its forms—from fossil sloths to mockingbirds, primroses to children—Darwin saw that we all are related. Every living thing shares an ancestry, he concluded, and the vast diversity of life on Earth results from processes at work over millions of years and still at work today. Darwin's explanation for this great unfolding of life through time—the theory of evolution by natural selection—transformed our understanding of the living world, much as the ideas of Galileo, Newton and Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the physical universe.

Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection underlies all modern biology. It enables us to decipher our genes and fight viruses, and to understand Earth's fossil record and rich biodiversity. Simple yet at times controversial, misunderstood and misused for social goals, the theory remains unchallenged as the central concept of biology. Charles Darwin, reluctant revolutionary, profoundly altered our view of the natural world and our place in it.

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