Darwin forever changed the way we perceive both nature and ourselves. Below we have an excerpt – a single page – from one of his famed research notebooks. (Of possible interest to Darwin-notebook enthusiasts: Paperblanks has created a journal with a cover that reproduces Darwin’s famed “Tree of Life” drawing and accompanying notes from one of these notebooks.)

Darwin worked on a series of notebooks for theoretical work now known as Notebooks A, B, C, D, etc. (The Tree of Life drawing is from Notebook B.) The below excerpt is from Notebook C, which was titled “Books to be Read” and was apparently written between February and July, 1838. The excerpt is the first page of the notebook and is made up a list of books.

So what makes this entry so interesting? It gives us a unique look into Darwin’s extensive and obsessive research process. The page begins with the simple title “Books to be Read” and goes right into the list. Interesting details to note about his process:

  • Darwin revised his notes as he worked through the list. Note that some titles have been crossed out (“Smellie Philosophy of Zoology“), indicating that he ultimately had read the book.
  • Darwin wrote the word “Read” next to some titles as well, also an indication that he had gotten around to consulting the book
  • Most of the time on this page Darwin just wrote a title (“Decandolle Philosophie”), but in other instances he included other details. One example: he lists a specific page he just wants to consult (“p. 164”). Another neat example: in lieu of a title he can’t recall he notes details about the to-be-read study (“Find out … where M. Quetelet has published his laws about sexes relative to the age of marriage”)

Read the excerpt and check out an image of the page below!

Books to be Read


Humboldt’s New Spain — — —
Fauna Borealis
Entomological Magazine — — —
Study Buffon on varieties of Domesticated animals — — — —
Find out from Statistical Soc. where M. Quetelet has published his laws about sexes relative to the age of marriage
Brown at end of Flinders & at the end of Congo voyage (Hooker 923) read
Decandolle Philosophie
Decandolle on Geograph distrib:
F. Cuvier on Instinct read
L. Jenyns paper in Annals of Nat. Hist.
Prichard; a 3d vol  Lawrence read
Bory St Vincent Vol 3. p 164 on unfixed form: Dr Royle on Himmalaya types (read)
Smellie Philosophy of Zoology.
Fleming Ditto
Falconers remark on the influence of climate

Notebook C was bound in maroon leather and is comprised of 276 pages.

More pages like the above can be viewed at http://darwin-online.org.uk, the most comprehensive catalogue of Darwin’s handwritten manuscripts and private papers that can be found online.

Tell us in the comments section below – do you keep a reading list? If so, what kind of practices or processes do you swear by?

 Click here to find out about Paperblanks’ Darwin Manuscript journal!

About Paperblanks®: We have been producing superb writing journals for twenty years. We are book people, and we believe that the written word matters and that our blank books have a critical role to play in the art and continued practice of writing itself. For more about Paperblanks®, go to our website at paperblanks.com.


  1. A few years ago I went to the London Natural History Museum’s temporary exhibit on Darwin’s life and research to commemorate his 200th birthday. My favorite part of the entire exhibit was his Notebook B, open to the page with his drawing of the Tree Of Life with “I think” written next to his sketch. I was absolutely thrilled to see that moment of insight captured on paper!

    I discovered your Darwin notebooks a few days ago and immediately ordered the Mini Darwin Tree Of Life journal! Review coming soon on Plannerisms!

    Thank you for featuring Darwin, he is one of my science heroes! 🙂


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