By ED KEMMICK – Billings Gazette
Charles Darwin, who fundamentally altered the way scientists view the world and whose ideas are nearly as inflammatory today as they were when he announced them to the world 150 years ago, was a quiet, kindly homebody who was literally sickened by excitement and dispute.
And though he is known now for one big idea, the theory of evolution by natural selection, Darwin spent his life, in the words of David Quammen, immersed "in the beautiful significance of tiny details."
Quammen [at right] is a science writer who lives in Bozeman. Having spent most of February and March delivering lectures on Darwin around the country, Quammen said he sometimes felt a little presumptuous, given that Darwin apparently never gave a single public talk on evolution.
"It was hard for him even to have a really animated discussion with one of his friends without being sick the next day," Quammen said.
Darwin is the subject of renewed interest this year because it is the 150th anniversary of the publication of "On the Origin of Species" and the bicentenary of his birth in England on Feb. 12, 1809.
Quammen is in demand because he has spent much of his career writing about evolutionary biology. He delivered a speech on Darwin at the Library of Congress in 2002, and in 2006 he wrote "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin," a short biography. He also served as general editor and wrote an introduction for a big, new illustrated edition of "The Origin" published in October.
He has lived in Bozeman since the 1970s and is now in his third and final year as the Wallace Stegner Distinguished Professor of Western American Studies at Montana State University.
He said he has been surprised "to find myself sort of a tinpot Darwin expert. ... I'm not trained as a scientist myself. I'm not an evolutionary biologist. But I've been in love with this guy and his work for a long time." ................