Self-taught and ambitious, Darwin genuinely believed he was "rather below the common standard in intellect" and had gained little from formal education. Yet he also knew he had seized his one great stroke of luck - the voyage of the Beagle - and forged a lasting body of knowledge through solitary determination and sheer hard work.
His memoir concentrates on his public career and towering scientific achievements, but is also full of lively anecdotes about his family and contemporaries. Among these, he paints a vivid portrait of his bullying father, and pays a loving tribute to his devoted wife Emma, who was distressed by their religious differences.
The figure that emerges from these pages is one who stands isolated, dogged by illness and confined to solitude by his ailing body, with a mind that rejected the arts and the 'damnable doctrine' of Christianity.
This volume also includes a fascinating fragment about Darwin's earliest memories, which he jotted down while pondering the impact of evolution on human psychology.