Peter Dizikes: Writings on Science and Society

Digging for Darwin
How many first-edition copies of On the Origin of Species still exist?
By Peter Dizikes. The New York Times, May 17, 2009

Dozens of people return overdue books to the Boston Public Library every day. Probably only one person, however, has ever walked in holding a book that had been missing for 80 years. Please salute Julie Geissler, the New Hampshire resident who stunned library staff members by showing up unannounced one day in 2001 to return a rare first-edition copy of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species,” one of the most famous books ever written.

What was Geissler doing with this copy of the treatise that so brilliantly laid out the principles of evolution? Well, in the early 1920s, someone removed the volume from the library. About five years later, Geissler says, a relative of hers, a scholar in Providence, R.I., bought it at a sale. Several years ago, Geissler’s mother, sorting through old family belongings, gave the book to Geissler. “It was in a box in the attic,” she recalled in a recent interview. “If my mother hadn’t noticed, it would have been thrown in the trash.” Geissler and her husband decided to return the book: “Now everyone can see it.”

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My work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Slate, Salon, Technology Review, and numerous other publications. You can learn more about me here.


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Peter Dizikes: Writings on Science and Society


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Andrew Hearst


Photo credit: Flickr user alb Marcos, via a Creative Commons license