JF Ptak Science Books Post 1517
In the last year or so of his life, Mr. Darwin (who died 19 April 1882, aged 73) published a work that was somewhat outside his main thrust in publishing for the preceding 25 years or so--a work that proved to be quite popular, evidently selling at a better clip than the Origin of Species of 1859.
This was a book on mould, and earthworms.
The formation of vegetable mould, through the action of worms, published in London (in October) by John Murray in 1881, actually went through a number of printings, with more than 7,000 copies sold by the end of 1882. It is a delightful book, and I can well picture the Old Man at Downs, studying the Worm Stone, thinking deeply about these little dirt-eating bits of nature, thinking about their actions on the landscape and what it meant over Very Long Periods of Time. The book of course is a tour de force, a lovely piece of thinking. It was also the target of this popular, anti-intellectual stab at the man's work, a cartoon appearing in the satirical Punch magazine for 1881, decrying The Descent of Man for bringing the lofty human down to less lofty heights, and then stating that Darwin's newest reached even lower and into the very muck. Well that certainly wasn't the reach of this work, which was a pretty straightforward affair hailing back to Darwin's early interests in geology, returning to a subject of moulds which he had published on in 1839 and 1840. Punch did take a stab at Darwin, trying to open up a hole into which the man might follow his worms, but of course that dog just wouldn't hunt.
Formation... is just a very smart book, with fantastic observations and ideas. And it hasn't much to do with getting Man muddy. Or dirty, for that matter.
On the other hand....