Darwin's Reading

See the books, abstracts, and pamphlets Darwin used to educate himself about the natural world.
Image of a few books, a few papers and other stationary on Charles Darwin's desk in his study
Image captured at Down House of Charles Darwin's desk in his study

Reading was a fundamental tool in Darwin’s scientific practice. He read widely in the scientific literature of natural history, he also copiously annotated many books and articles and he systematically abstracted many of his annotations. Since a big part of his strategy for supporting the theory of evolution relied on his ability to translate the biological problems of his day into evolutionary terms, the documentary record of his Darwin’s reading cuts across the topical structure of the Darwin archive. 

Charles Darwin’s Library

Books  In 1882, there were some 1400, principally scientific, books in Darwin’s library. About half were annotated by Darwin. We have made some 80% of the heavily annotated books accessible through a collaborative effort with Cambridge University Library and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. 

Annotated books are principally at Cambridge University Library and the remainder are displayed at Down House.

In 1875, a Catalogue of Darwin’s scientific books at Down House was compiled by Thomas W. Newton (DAR 240). 

Serials: Darwin’s library contains a large collection of pamphlets (off prints & reprints) as well as bound and unbound runs of scientific journals.

Abstracts of Scientific Books, Journals & Pamphlets

Systematic notes abstracting the points of interest in numerous scientific books and journals. Darwin used abstracts as a way of annotating literature that, in large part, he did not own. These abstracts are located in DAR 71-75. In addition, Darwin’s many loose reading notes with bibliographic information are found intermingled with his other notes all over the archive.

Reading Notebooks and Reading Lists

Darwin compiled several notebooks and lists of books he either intended to read or had in fact read. These will be published on this site as they become available.