Darwin's luck: Chance and fortune in the life and work of Charles Darwin

Document Type





Faculty of Education and Arts


School of Communications and Arts




Armstrong, P. (2009). Darwin's luck: Chance and fortune in the life and work of Charles Darwin. London ;Continuum. Original book available here


Perhaps the most common view is that Charles Robert Darwin, the great Victorian naturalist, originator of the theory of evolution through natural selection, had something of a charmed life. He was born into a wealthy, upper-middle-class family, and never had to work for his living. He was extremely intelligent. He was educated at two of England's venerable educational institutions: Shrewsbury School, and Christ's College, Cambridge. At least while at Cambridge he had excellent teachers. He had the good fortune, at the very start of his scientific career, to be invited to accompany an important Royal Naval survey and exploration expedition, during which he had many of the resources of one of His Majesty's ships-of-war placed at his disposal. He married an attractive, intelligent heiress, who remained devoted to him. He was accorded high honours, being elected to a Fellowship of the Royal Society at a relatively young age (just before his thirtieth birthday), and held important and influential positions in the Geological Society of London and the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He was awarded an honorary degree by Cambridge, and other honours flowed from other universities and scientific bodies. He lived the better part of his life in a comfortable country house with a large garden, in relative seclusion, but conveniently close to the intellectual centre of London. His family was attended upon by a number of faithful servants. He had a network of supportive and very influential friends. He loved, and was loved by, his family, many of whom went on to distinguished careers themselves. In death he was given the highest honour his country could give: burial in Westminster Abbey following a most impressive funeral in the presence of the great, the good and the powerful.