Score one against the forces of evil, folks, because the complete works of Charles Darwin are freely available online, or soon will be. Searchable text, plus original scans, and even a side-by-side interface for viewing both simultaneously (it’s a little clunky, but once you play with it a little you’ll realize your inner scholar approves).
It’s tempting to think of Darwin as being ancient, out-of-date, irrelevant. But the observations and interpretations Darwin made remain, especially as introductory material to the layperson, as accurate and revelatory as ever:
Several theories have been advanced to explain the origin of atolls or lagoon islands, but scarcely one to account for barrier-reefs. From the limited depths at which reef-building polypifers can flourish, taken into consideration with certain other circumstances, we are compelled to conclude, as it will be seen, that both in atolls and barrier-reefs, the foundation on which the coral was primarily attached, has subsided; and that during this downward movement, the reefs have grown upwards. This conclusion, it will be further seen, explains most satisfactorily the outline and general form of atolls and barrier-reefs, and likewise certain peculiarities in their structure. The distribution, also, of the different kinds of coral-reefs, and their position with relation to the areas of recent elevation, and to the points subject to volcanic eruptions, fully accord with this theory of their origin.
You see, Darwin wasn’t just a biologist, but a more than competent Earth scientist (among other things). His theories took into account geology, climatology, oceanography, vulcanology… and on and on. He was such a Renaissance man, in fact, that many of the “ologies” he explored weren’t even named in his time.
Aside from being outstanding natural science, the production value of some of these works is astounding. Much of this stuff is suitable for framing.
It’s a lot to take in, and of course the web is still a horrible interface for this kind of immersion (even at 3200×1200, I can attest), but I urge you to poke around in this collection, examine some of the drawings at full-resolution, run some searches on topics of interest to you. You will not be disappointed.
Thanks Google News U.K.!