By focusing mostly on the birds Charles Darwin observed, and by brilliantly mining his lesser-known writings, Haupt pens a startlingly fresh exploration of the man's genius that invites readers to look at the world with new eyes.
When Charles Darwin set out on his voyage of discovery aboard the Beagle in 1831, he was a na ve naturalist. Upon his return to England five years later, as nature writer Haupt (Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds) capably demonstrates, he was a polished, philosophical student of nature. In fluid, lovely prose, Haupt documents this dramatic transformation, focusing on the notebooks Darwin kept during the journey. Through her selections, we see Darwin's minute observations and his understanding of the natural world, and we gain early hints of the ideas that would transform the world when he published On the Origin of Species in 1859. While Haupt presents nothing dramatically new, it is enjoyable to picture the young Darwin spending hours watching Andean condors soar and anthropomorphizing many South American birds (not just the famous finches of the Gal pagos). Haupt uses Darwin's personal journey as a metaphor for our contemporary view of the natural world, expressing the hope that people today might become more attuned to their natural surroundings. Darwin, Haupt argues, reminds us "that we too are animals, connected to life, past and present.... That nothing in the natural world is beneath our notice."