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Patagonia Ebook Reviews: The Voyage of the Beagle

Books have always been a source of inspiration, information and even comfort for travellers but until now you could only pack as many books as you could comfortably carry. Luckily for us, e-readers present the perfect solution to this age-old problem and now the traveller’s only constraint is the number of decent ebooks on the market. In this blog series, Cascada scours the internet so you don’t have to, picking out and reviewing the best Patagonia-related ebooks for your trip, to help you choose which to download and which to dismiss. You won't find any guidebook reviews here, this is a space for novels, travelogues, memoirs... anything that will get you in the mood for your journey to Patagonia.

So far in this series on ebooks relating to Patagonia, we’ve reviewed Simon Worrall’s memoir
The River of Desire, The Tourist Trail by John Yunker, Three Journeys to Patagonia by Nick Green, The Condor’s Feather by Margaret Muir, Patagonia - A Cultural History by Chris Moss and Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch. This time, we picked up the most timeless classic of all Patagonia travelogues - The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin - and set off on a journey to the Patagonia as seen two centuries ago by the world's most famous naturalist.

The Ebook

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The Voyage of the Beagle
Charles Darwin
Skyhorse Publishing (March 11, 2014)
Kindle Edition $0.00

The Blurb

When On the Origin of Species came out in 1859, it changed the understanding of life and was the foundation of evolutionary biology. All the material that he received for this book was from the famous expeditions he took on the Beagle during the 1830s. This is the story of that voyage.

A Naturalist’s Voyage Round the World follows Charles Darwin over his almost five-year journey around the world, in which he studied animals, plants, geology, and much more. From the tip of South America and the Galapagos Islands to Australia and Tahiti, Darwin set out to study geology, but ended up finding the information that would lead to his theory of evolution by natural selection.

With the original images from Darwin’s journal, A Naturalist’s Voyage Round the World is an incredible look into the past at one of the most important documentations of a sea voyage ever. The information collected by Darwin changed our world, and now you can relive every moment in his own words and illustrations.

Beagle channel
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The Review

Darwin’s famous voyage on the Beagle hardly requires an introduction. Most people, however, hold the misconception that Darwin received his inspiration when he visited the Galapagos Archipelago. Certainly the Galapagos were important, but that was merely one stop in his voyage. The Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin’s own account of the five-year expedition, gives a more complete picture of Darwin’s thought and his engagement with the natural world. Darwin’s trip was a long one, spanning the Atlantic and the Pacific, and throughout the entire trajectory, the naturalist tirelessly recorded everything, from the geography to the behaviour of animals, in his journal. The moments of epiphany on Galapagos were therefore only the culmination of a long process of scientific observation and reflection.

Patagonia thus played a formative role in Darwin’s understanding of the natural world. No wonder then he devoted about over a third of the book to it. We follow him across the lonely and barren Patagonian steppes and through the stormy Strait of Magellan into the fjords and broken islands of southern Chile, all the time listening to his knowledgeable voice giving commentary on everything between the sea and the sky. The casual reader can relish in Darwin’s descriptions of the Patagonian landscape, which often evoke the grandeur and sublimity of the scenery, and some of the incredible stories he has to tell.

We learn from Darwin’s account that, in some ways, Patagonia in the 19th century was very different from what travellers today can see today, not least due to the much stronger presence of native culture, before the indigenous peoples were assimilated into the criolle society. We meet, for example, the Fuegians who accompanied Darwin from England to Tierra del Fuego. While Darwin’s attitudes towards the native Patagonians may strike us modern readers as problematic, his antiquated views of Indian culture can be viewed as an object of historical interest as long as we remind ourselves that even the greatest minds can succumb to the errors of received thinking of his times.

Patagonian Herigage - Indigenas
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But Darwin, being a scientist, devoted about half of the pages to meticulous descriptions of the local geology, climate, and flora and fauna, and as fascinating as these could sometimes be, after a dozen of pages they could become tedious for most readers. Even the smallest bird could be given a treatment of four or five pages, its appearance, behaviour and habitat described very thoroughly. It is hard, for instance, to maintain interest in “a globular, bright-yellow fungus” native to Tierra del Fuego. Perhaps future editions should include annotations to help readers understand exactly which species is being referred to where this is not obvious, so that readers visiting Patagonia could observe more easily what Darwin had seen two centuries ago.

Sometimes, Darwin strays away from descriptions into speculations on geological processes, such as his theory of the gradual formation of the Andes. His reasonings are difficult to follow for the uninitiated, and in any case, have been rejected subsequently by other geologists, so for those readers looking for a relaxing read, don’t feel bad about skipping these pages.

Nevertheless, the reward of sticking with Darwin even when he’s boring or wrong is that one can gain an insight into Darwin’s innovative mind and exhaustive eye. One couldn’t help but chuckle when Darwin reported that his altitude sickness in the Andes disappeared when he made some fossil discoveries in the rocks. In these passages, Darwin really comes alive as a passionate reader of nature who would come across as a bit too obsessed if you were to meet him in real life.

Lastly, a great reason to read this book: it's free! The work is in the public domain so you can download the ebook completely free of charge. Happy reading!

Read The Voyage of the Beagle if...

  • You're a nature buff.
  • You want to travel to Patagonia as it was two centuries ago.
  • You want Darwin to be your tour guide.

Cascada’s Verdict

3 out of 5 stars

Have you read The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin? What did you think? Do you have a suggestion of an ebook for Cascada to review? Share your thoughts below!