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21 Ultimate Gifts: The Cradle of Evolution

Although to this day not everyone agrees with his conclusions, Englishman Charles Darwin helped answer the question of how we, the human race, got here, when, in 1859, the naturalist wrote On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin based the book on information he gathered during a five-year voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. The observations that he made and the specimens that he collected during the ship’s five-week visit in 1835 to the Galápagos Islands, an archipelago lying 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, provided evidence that supported what other scientists of his day had suspected: that animal species evolved, or experienced cumulative changes over time, and the changes that helped a species adapt to its environment were more likely to be passed on to subsequent generations.

Darwin called the mechanism that favored successful adaptations and discouraged misfits “natural selection,” and he based his theory, in part, on specimens of finches that he had gathered from different islands in the Galápagos. Darwin noticed that each species of finch had a beak that differed in shape slightly from the others and enabled the birds to better exploit their home island’s food supply.

The theory that Darwin proffered in his book remains nearly as controversial today as it was when it first appeared in print 146 years ago. Scientists continue to debate how evolution happened, and some religious leaders continue to question whether it happened. Perhaps the best way to grapple with Darwin’s ideas is to read his words and visit the islands where he made his discoveries.


Argosy Book Store, an 80-year-old Manhattan dealer in rare and antique books, is offering a British first edition of Darwin’s masterwork. The initial press run of the book, which was released on November 22, 1859, consisted of 1,250 copies, and it is unknown how many have survived. In addition to acquiring the book, you can embark on an unparalleled trip to the Galápagos Islands in spring 2007 to retrace Darwin’s steps with several leading scientists and authors who have tackled his theory. You could be accompanied by luminaries such as Daniel Dennett, Tufts professor and author of Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life; Steven Pinker, Harvard professor and author of How the Mind Works; and Peter and Rosemary Grant, evolutionary biologists from Princeton University who for decades have been studying finches on the island of Daphne Major.

Argosy, which acquired this British first edition copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species last year when it purchased a library from an American owner, describes its condition as “excellent” and “unsophisticated,” which means it shows no evidence of repairs, or of having needed any.

The voyage, which can be booked for dates following March 31, 2007, is designed for eight guests and eight lecturers. A choice of vessels is available, among them the 120-foot, three-masted Sagitta; the 125-foot motor yacht Parranda; and the 192-foot yacht Evolution.

In addition to the first edition Origin of Species, Argosy is offering an antique naval map of the Galápagos Islands. This 37-inch-by-26-inch map was created by John William Norie and published at the Naval Academy in London in 1824, eight years before Ecuador claimed the archipelago and 11 years before Darwin’s fateful visit. 

Frank Sulloway, a visiting professor at the University of California at Berkeley’s psychology department who has made nine research trips to the Galápagos Islands during the last 37 years, will serve as expedition leader for the one- to two-week itinerary. Stops could include places such as the Galápaguera tortoise habitat on San Cristobal Island. If permission can be obtained, you could visit islands that normally are off-limits to tourists.

Following the cruise, provided that the required research permits are formally approved, you could also accompany Sulloway as a research assistant to places that the young Darwin visited. These might possibly include Beagle Crater on the island of Isabela, where Darwin encountered his first land iguanas; the caldera of Volcan Alcedo on Isabela, which is home to 5,000 Galápagos tortoises; and Buccaneer Cove on Santiago Island, where you could perhaps camp on the same site where Darwin camped more than 150 years ago.


Starting at $725,000, including $125,000 for the first edition of Darwin’s Origin of Species.


Forum Travel, 925.997.1864,


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