Any reader of Darwin’s diary, young or old, will be struck by the harshness of life in many of the regions of the world that Darwin traveled. His readiness to moralize on what he saw is often not flattering to the ruling groups in these wild outposts, and not everyone will like the frankness of Darwin’s portrayal of the Portuguese in Brazil or the New Zealanders. Thus no reader of this book should anticipate a pleasant excursion through the flora and fauna of exotic locales. This is a grim book, full of cruelty and the blood of people and animals, and it deserves a wide reading by a thoughtful audience. Yet to represent it as adolescent literature probably stretches the usual understanding of that genre.
Darwin seldom offers political comments, but on two occasions, he yearned for an absolutist rule to introduce order. He argued of Tierra del Fuego that “until some chief rises, who by his power might be able to keep to himself such presents as animals &c. &c., there must be an end to all hopes of bettering their condition.” Of life in Montevideo, he writes, “In my opinion before many years, they will be trembling under the iron hand of some Dictator. I wish the country well enough to hope the period is not far distant.” His vision was prescient.