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Cambridge University Library



Darwin’s tiny, priceless Tree of Life sketch is arguably the most iconic drawing in the history of science.

“The Tree of Life notebooks are Darwin at his most radical,” says Professor Jim Secord, a world expert on the subject. “The theory of natural selection and evolution is the foundation stone of modern biology and much of the rest of the sciences.”

However, the notebooks were stolen in the early 2000s and were missing for two decades before their anonymous return in a pink gift bag on March 9, 2022 – alongside a very odd note!

Despite an investigation that involved the Met Police, Interpol and a global public appeal, we still don’t know who took Darwin’s notebooks or why.

But why would someone steal them in the first place? What makes Darwin’s Tree of Life notebooks so important that someone saw fit to spirit them away from Cambridge University Library then return them again – 20 years later.

In this first podcast from one of the world’s great libraries, you’ll find out about the notebooks’ great importance, the endlessly curious life and letters of Charles Darwin, and the end of a nearly 50-year mega project to transcribe and publish 15,000 letters to and from Darwin – making them freely available to us all.