Darwin's First Theory: Exploring Darwin's Quest for a Theory of Earth

Geologist and earthquake researcher Rob Wesson traces the footsteps of Charles Darwin in the exciting scientific travelogue Darwin's First Theory: Exploring Darwin's Quest for a Theory of Earth.

Wesson follows Darwin's famous excursions in South America, notably in the Andean highlands of Chile, outlining not the man's theory of evolution, but rather his lesser-known contributions to plate tectonics. After all, Darwin was a geologist before he was a biologist, Wesson points out. He was a naturalist at a time when scientific fields themselves weren't heavily specialized and researchers followed their curiosity more than the rules of any one discipline.

Wesson succeeds in incorporating Darwin's writing into his larger narrative and provides plenty of relevant and illuminating passages. The mystery of mountains, the magnitude of their uplift, seems to haunt Darwin as he describes rocks, topography and the processes of erosion and deposition. Though not all his geological theories turn out to be correct, he was on the right track by surmising that powerful forces beneath the Earth's crust constantly alter landforms.

With the benefit of modern science, Wesson eschews the technical in favor of the descriptive. By placing himself in the same environments Darwin explored, he's able to evoke similar feelings of awe. Furthermore, his deft journalistic accounts of Chileans affected by recent earthquakes put a human face on geologic forces. The smart interplay between all these elements makes Darwin's First Theory indispensable reading for rock hounds and fans of natural history. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

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