‘Multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die … It is difficult to believe in the dreadful but quiet war lurking just below the serene facade of nature.’
Twenty-six appears to be the optimum age for imposing a new order on the world. Albert Einstein was 26 when he first proposed his theory of relativity, Charles Darwin was 26 when he made his first breakthrough insight into evolution, and Neil McElroy was 26 when he first outlined the fundamentals of brand management.
In the early nineteenth century it was popular for graduates to take a few years out before settling down to a serious career. The long-term career plan for Charles Darwin was to join the church, but first he had some travelling to do. In 1831, aged 22, he set out on a five-year voyage. His ship, HMS Beagle, was tasked with mapping the southern shores of South America, before returning home via Tahiti and Australia. Darwin, like many naturalists before him, took to describing the order of nature, but he also became increasingly fascinated by the mechanism though which such order emerged. Four years into the voyage, aged 26, many claim his thinking regarding the process of natural evolution reached a significant turning point. During the several weeks he spent on the remote Ecuadorean archipelago known as the Galapagos he discovered a wide variety of new species. These were related to the ones he'd observed on the South American mainland, but ...