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Darwin’s Priceless Notebooks Returned

Did you hear how two priceless notebooks belonging to Charles Darwin that were missing for over 20 years were returned to the Cambridge University Library on March 9, 2022?

Dating back to the 1830s, when Darwin returned from his famed trip to the Galapagos Islands, the notebooks are considered to be some of the most remarkable documents in the history of science.

Darwin’s famous “tree of life” drawing helped inspire his theory of evolution and was a central tenet in his pioneering book, On the Origin of Species.

The evolutionist’s manuscripts were first discovered to be missing during a routine check in 2001. However, staff thought they had simply been misplaced after being photographed. The library is home to around 10 million books, maps and other materials and it was believed the notebooks were classified incorrectly. It was not until 2020 that the library determined the notebooks had likely been stolen and reported the loss to police, who alerted Interpol. The library also issued an appeal to the public for the books’ safe return at that time.

Eighteen months later, the notebooks were returned inside a pink gift bag and wrapped in plastic. Accompanied by a note reading, “Librarian, Happy Easter X,” they were left outside an office on the fourth floor of the university’s 17-story library building, a public area not monitored by CCTV.

Fortunately, the notebooks are in great condition and appear to have been well cared for during their excursion from the library. They are now on display to the public this summer.


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