Evolution's Captain

Evolution's Captain

The Story of the Kidnapping That Led to Charles Darwin's Voyage Aboard the Beagle

By Peter Nicholls

Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780060088781, 352pp.

Publication Date: June 2004


This is the story of the man without whom the name Charles Darwin might be unknown to us today. That man was Captain Robert FitzRoy, who invited the 22-year-old Darwin to be his companion on board the Beagle .

This is the remarkable story of how a misguided decision by Robert FitzRoy, captain of HMS Beagle, precipitated his employment of a young naturalist named Charles Darwin, and how the clash between FitzRoy's fundamentalist views and Darwin's discoveries led to FitzRoy's descent into the abyss.

One of the great ironies of history is that the famous journey wherein Charles Darwin consolidated the earth-rattling origin of the species discoveries was conceived by another man: Robert FitzRoy. It was FitzRoy who chose Darwin for the journey not because of Darwin's scientific expertise, but because he seemed a suitable companion to help FitzRoy fight back the mental illness that had plagued his family for generations. Darwin did not give FitzRoy solace; indeed, the clash between the two men's opposing views, together with the ramifications of Darwin's revelations, provided FitzRoy with the final unendurable torment that forced him to end his own life.

About the Author
Peter Nicholls is Subject Chair of American Studies at the University of Sussex and the author of "Ezra Pound: Politics, Economics and Writing (1984).

Praise For Evolution's Captain

“A well-written and lively tale, filled with insightful analysis and telling details.”
-Seattle Times

“A powerful story played out against a beguiling landscape.”
-New York Times Book Review

“Nichols delivers a dramatic, highly colored narrative about the head-on collision between two worldviews.”
-Washington Post

“A fascinating account ... a finely researched, engaging book.”
-Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“This engrossing account of Fitzroy’s life reads like the finest historical fiction.”
-Sunday Telegraph

“A fascinating account.”
-Edmonton Sun

“[It’s] hard not to share Nichols’ fascination with how FitzRoy...inadvertantly set off a scientfic controversy.”
-Publishers Weekly

“A detailed … portrait of a man whose talents should have earned him a higher place in history.”
-Kirkus Reviews

“Marvelous...a fascinating and expert amalgam of history, science, anthropology and adventure.”
-Derek Lundy, author of The Way of a Ship