The Voyage of the Beetle

This book, written by Anne H. Weaver, is a clever twist on the origins of Darwin's Origins. This story is told from the perspective of Rosie, a beetle Charles finds as a young man. The tile of the book is a play on Darwin's own work, The Voyage of the Beagle.

I believe the choice to tell it from the Beetle's perspective was deliberate in order to more easily convey Darwin's thought processes. On his five year journey, he writes about much of the flora and fauna found along the way. Rosie guides him along, dropping "clues" to both he and the reader, enabling one to "solve" the mystery before Darwin does. This clever plot device both makes the story more amusing and easier to understand.

Obviously, this story isn't 100% rooted in fact. Although, sadly, talking beetles don't exist, many of real events that happened in Darwin's life are included. For example, his nickname of Gas (given to him by classmates at 13 when he took up chemistry as a hobby) is playfully eschewed by the Rosie.

While written for children, I found this book to be fairly advanced and packed with a ton of information. While the clues are easy to those of us with a working knowledge of natural selection and Darwin's theory, they may be more sophisticated to a member of the audience this book was intended for (although the last chapter of the book does a wonderful job tying together and summarizing Darwin's work.) The clues Rosie leaves are done so in his journal, which is represented in very fine detail. Detailed sketches and notes accompany each destination Darwin visits. There is plenty of depth to be found here.

What I liked most about it was the human side of Darwin. It is easy to think about dead men or women in passing, but history is about bringing them to life. Clever anecdotes are incorporated to keep the story light and funny. There's even a little slapstick comedy as Charles seems to get mangled or hurt just about everywhere he goes. He wrangles himself while trying to rope a horse in Argentina at one point.

Darwin's voyage is a story that gets lost in the heavy debate at times. It's easy to forget that he was a human just like us: a man whose sense of curiosity led him to one of the most important works in all of science: The Origin of Species. The Voyage of the Beetle very cleverly and deftly tells an intelligent story that doesn't sacrifice any substance for readability. Yet, it remains very easy to understand for most. The lush illustrations bring to life Charles and Rosie herself.


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