The Galapagos were once known to the sailors and pirates who encountered them as Las Encantadas: the enchanted islands, home to marvellous creatures and dramatic volcanic scenery. This captivating history of the world's most famous islands charts their evolution from deserted wilderness to profoundly important scientific resource and now global tourist destination. The Galapagos' rich diversity of species made it the cradle of evolutionary theory. Its scientific treasures have always been explored in surprising ways: Darwin rode on the back of tortoises, flung iguanas into the sea and attacked hawks with hats in the process of his discovery. And its lessons are far from exhausted: recently, Darwin's celebrated finches have helped biologists to film evolution in real time. The islands are famous throughout the world - recognition that brings with it 170,000 tourists a year and widespread development, as well as bitter clashes between environmentalists and local inhabitants. More than ever, we must be alert to the significance of this unique location - because what happens here foreshadows the fate of threatened ecosystems everywhere on earth.