The book that changed the world: Darwin’s 'On the Origin of Species'

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On this day one hundred and fifty-two years ago, the first edition of a truly extraordinary book become available to the public. The book was Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selectionor the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Its short title was later changed to The Origin of Species - and it is frequently and erroneously referred to as Origin of the Species – but by any name, we understand this book to be one that forever changed our understanding of the world around us.

Charles Darwin was among the first members of The London Library when it was created by Thomas Carlyle in 1841. In fact, we know that Darwin was London Library Member No. 593, because we can see his name and address in our original register of Library members:

Among the many treasures the Library possesses, our first edition of On the Origin of Species is among the most thrilling. Together with our 1611 King James Bible, rightly celebrated in this, its quincentenary year, we have two volumes which trace centuries of human belief and knowledge.

In addition to its first edition of On the Origin of Species, the Library has many other editions, including three of the six editions which appeared in Darwin’s lifetime. We also have first and later editions of many of Darwin’s other works, including The Descent of Man, The Power of Movement in Plants and The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms. While The London Library is primarily a Humanities library, we have plenty of treats for Science buffs; though, for obvious reasons, we can’t let you take this particular edition of On the Origin of Species home!