918: Darwin Slept Here by Eric Simons

by Gerard

918: Simons, Eric. Darwin Slept Here: Discovery, Adventure, and Swimming Iguanas in Charles Darwin’s South America. New York: Overlook Press, 2009. 252 pp. ISBN 978-1-59020-200-3.

Dewey Construction:

  • 900: History and Geography
  • 910: Geography and travel
  • 918: Geography and travel in South America

On December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin, a young amateur naturalist with a hankering to explore the world, stepped aboard the HMS Beagle and didn’t return to England until October 1836. In those five years, he traveled around the world and extensively wrote about his expeditions and discoveries in South America. Going down the east coast and up the west, he gathered obsverations, data, and specimens that would serve to completely rewrite both the history of science and the science of history. A few years ago, nature writer and recent graduate Eric Simons decided to go on the same journey.

Simons’ Darwin Slept Here is an interesting attempt to retrace many of the paths that Darwin took while in South America as well as a fresh take on the history of the many cultures at the end of the world. He goes to Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile to find out (a) how much impact the travels had on Darwin and his future theories and (b) how much impact Darwin had on South America. It turns out that there is an interesting subculture of Darwin-related tourist stops all along the South American coastline.

The travelogue portion is your typical “fish out of water” meets cynical post-graduate student story. The travels are mildly interesting and give you a sense of just how certain parts of South America are. When interspliced with Darwin’s travels in the same region, it becomes something more. The sense of history is more pronounced, the purpose more clean. This is the area that will interest the reader.

The writing was passable enough—it reads like many other books before it. Since mine was an advanced reader’s copy, I’ll disregard the lack of an index, art work, or thorough copyediting. If you can get it as a cheap paperback, it’s worth a read. Otherwise, feel free to keep browsing.