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Posted on Tuesday, January 24 - 2006

" Among the many traits that made Charles Darwin one of the greatest minds in science was his pertinacious personality. Facing a daunting problem in natural history, Darwin would obstinately chip away at it until its secrets relented.His apt description for this disposition came from an 18..."

Evolution

Among the many traits that made Charles Darwin one of the greatest minds in science was his pertinacious personality. Facing a daunting problem in natural history, Darwin would obstinately chip away at it until its secrets relented.His apt description for this disposition came from an 1867 Anthony Trollope novel in which one of the characters opined: "There ain't nowt a man can't bear if he'll only be dogged.... It's dogged as does it." Darwin's son Francis recalled his father's temperament: "Doggedness expresses his frame of mind almost better than perseverance. Perseverance seems hardly to express his almost fierce desire to force the truth to reveal itself."Historian of science Frank J.Sulloway of the University of California, Berkeley, has highlighted Darwin's dogged genius in his own tenacious efforts to force the truth of how Darwin actually pieced together the theory of evolution. The iconic myth is that Darwin became an evolutionist in the Galápagos when he discovered natural selection operating on finch beaks and tortoise carapaces, each species uniquely adapted by food type or island ecology.

The notion is ubiquitous, appearing in everything from biology textbooks to travel brochures, the latter inveigling potential travelers to visit the mecca of evolutionary theory and walk in the tracks of St. Darwin the Divine. In June 2004 Sulloway and I did just that, spending a month retracing some of Darwin's fabled footsteps. Sulloway is one sagacious scientist, but I had no idea he was such an intrepid field explorer until we hit the lava onSan Cristóbal to reconstruct the famous naturalist's explorations there. Doggedness is the watchword here: with a sweltering equatorial sun and almost no freshwater, it is not long before 70-pound water-loaded packs begin to buckle knees and strain backs. Add hours of daily bushwhacking through dry, dense, scratchy vegetation, and the romance of fieldwork quickly fades. Yet the harder it got, the more resolute Sulloway became. He actually seemed to enjoy the misery, and this gave me a glimpse into Darwin's single-mindedness. At the end of one particularly grueling climb through a moonscapelike area Darwin called the "craterized district" of San Cristóbal, we collapsed in utter exhaustion, muscles quivering, and sweat pouring off our hands and faces. Darwin described a similar excursion as "a long walk." Death permeates these islands. Animal carcasses arescattered hit......


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