24 November 1859: Charles Darwin publishes ‘On the Origin of Species’

On this day in 1859, Charles Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species’, the book considered by many to be the cornerstone of evolutionary biology.

'On the Origin of Species' was the result of 30 years of Darwin's work

Charles Robert Darwin was the son of a wealthy doctor who developed an interest in natural history while studying medicine at Edinburgh University. But it was while studying natural theology at Cambridge that he found his vocation.

His obsession with collecting beetles and the scholarly friends he made at Cambridge eventually led to an invitation to board HMS Beagle for its second survey voyage. A letter from the professor of botany describes his role on the voyage "not as a finished naturalist, but as a gentleman amply qualified for collecting, observing, and noting any thing worth to be noted in Natural History".

Advertisement - Article continues below

The publication of Darwin's letters and reports from South America and the Galapagos islands established his reputation as a geologist of real standing. Among his most important findings was that the finches found on different islands were fundamentally similar in shape, but displayed variations in size and claws the result, he theorised, of natural selection'.

After returning to England, he married Emma Wedgwood in 1839 and settled with a family in London. He began working in private to develop his ideas on evolution and transmutation while maintaining a career publishing essays and articles.

After nearly 30 years of research, he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Lifeon this day in 1859. It sold out its initial print run within days. By the time of Darwin's death, the book had gone through six editions.

It is often thought that the time it took for Darwin to publish his great work was due to his fears of backlash from the Church, and it is true that some dismissed the book as heresy; but more liberal religious authorities were able to reconcile his theories with divinity.

What was undeniable was the book's immediate success both as a scientific text and as a fixture of popular culture.

Also on this day

24 November 1972: the mysterious DB Cooper' hijacking

Read more here




How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019

Are we back on the road to serfdom?

The coronavirus crisis has led to levels of state intervention unprecedented in peace time. The Austrian School reminds us of the challenges, say Dan …
22 May 2020

MoneyWeek's quiz of the week, 16-22 May

Test your recollection of the events of the last seven days with MoneyWeek's quiz of the week
22 May 2020
UK Economy

What are negative interest rates and could they happen here?

Negative interest rates – where banks pay you to borrow money – now exist in many parts of the world. John Stepek explains why they are a terrible ide…
18 May 2020

Most Popular

UK Economy

What bounce back loans can tell us about how we’ll pay for all this

The government will guarantee emergency "bounce back loans" for small businesses hit by Covid-19. Inevitably, many businesses will default. And there'…
1 Jun 2020
Global Economy

The MoneyWeek Podcast: James Ferguson on the virus, the lockdown, and what comes next

Merryn talks to MoneyWeek regular James Ferguson of Macrostrategy Partnership about what's happened so far with the virus; whether the lockdown was th…
28 May 2020

As full lockdown ends, what are the risks for investors?

In the UK and elsewhere, people are gradually being let off the leash as the lockdown begins to end. John Stepek looks at what risks remain for invest…
29 May 2020