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Poor Darwin

Harriet Ritvo, 26 July 1990

Charles DarwinA New Biography 
by John Bowlby.
Hutchinson, 511 pp., £19.95, June 1990, 0 09 174229 3
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... Few scientists have provided the occasion for such an expense of ink as Charles Darwin. Although for much of his career he was appreciated only by a relatively small circle of fellow specialists, the publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species brought him to the attention of a much larger public. And the labelling as ‘Darwinism’ (or Darwinisme or Darwinismus) of a variety of Late Victorian views on matters biological, anthropological and sociological ensured that at least his name, if not precisely his work, would continue to command a high level of recognition ...

Darwin among the Gentry

Adrian Desmond, 23 May 1985

The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. I: 1821-1836 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 702 pp., £30, March 1985, 0 521 25587 2
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The Survival of Charles DarwinA Biography of a Man and an Idea 
by Ronald Clark.
Weidenfeld, 449 pp., £14.95, April 1985, 0 297 78377 7
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... in 1837-9 and devise a mechanistic theory of organic transmutation? The gentleman of course was Charles Darwin. And the magnitude of the problem is highlighted by the publication of the first volume of his meticulously-edited Correspondence. This eagerly-awaited collection of letters, copiously annotated and with a plethora of social detail, promises ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin, 7 January 2010

... biggest birthday party. On or around 12 February 2009 alone – the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, ‘Darwin Day’ – there were more than 750 commemorative events in at least 45 countries, and, on or around 24 November, there was another spate of celebrations to mark the 150th anniversary of ...

At the Natural History Museum

Peter Campbell: Darwin as Deity, 29 January 2009

... and chapel-like alcoves; and it is dominated by a statue in white marble of the local deity – Charles Darwin – who looks down at a huge dinosaur skeleton from the landing of the staircase that rises in a double flight at the north end. Darwin’s ideas are so central to biology that there is no wall of ...

The Kentish Hog

Adrian Desmond, 15 October 1987

The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. II: 1837-1843 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 603 pp., £30, March 1987, 0 521 25588 0
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The Works of Charles Darwin 
edited by Paul Barrett and R.B. Freeman.
Pickering & Chatto, 10 pp., £470, March 1987, 1 85196 002 3
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The Darwinian Heritage 
edited by David Kohn.
Princeton, 1138 pp., £67.90, February 1986, 0 691 08356 8
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Western Science in the Arab World: The Impact of Darwinism, 1860-1930 
by Adel Ziadat.
Macmillan, 162 pp., £27.50, October 1986, 0 333 41856 5
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Theories of Human Evolution: A Century of Debate 1844-1944 
by Peter Bowler.
Blackwell, 318 pp., £25, February 1987, 0 631 15264 4
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Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian-Silurian Dispute 
by James Secord.
Princeton, 363 pp., £33.10, October 1986, 0 691 08417 3
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Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture 
by Robert Young.
Cambridge, 341 pp., £30, October 1985, 0 521 31742 8
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... with a deftly-delivered kick, observing that a study of the wider institutional culture of Darwin’s day seems to be ‘beyond the present ken of historians of 19th-century biology’. It’s a well-aimed blow. Little of the Darwin industry’s capital has been spent on exploring evolution in its social context. It ...

Visitors! Danger!

Lorraine Daston: Charles Darwin, 8 May 2003

Charles Darwin. Vol. II: The Power of Place 
by Janet Browne.
Cape, 591 pp., £25, November 2002, 0 224 04212 2
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... Among the icons of science, Newton is admired and Einstein revered, but Darwin is liked. This is rather puzzling on the face of it. His theories concerning organic evolution, and the satellite doctrines that have attached themselves to his name – Social Darwinisms of the political Right and Left, eugenics, robber-baron capitalism, anarchism, sociobiology – haven’t ceased to be controversial since the publication in 1859 of his On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life ...

Blame it on Darwin

Jonathan Rée, 4 October 2017

Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker 
by A.N. Wilson.
John Murray, 438 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 4447 9488 5
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... When​ the 22-year-old Charles Darwin joined HMS Beagle in 1831 he took a copy of Paradise Lost with him, and over the next five years he read it many times, in Brazil, Patagonia, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Mauritius. As the ship’s naturalist he sent commentaries and specimens back to colleagues in London, who soon came to see him not as a dilettante but an extremely acute observer ...

Small Special Points

Rosemary Hill: Darwin and the Europeans, 23 May 2019

Correspondence of Charles DarwinVol. 26, 1878 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt, James Secord and the editors of the Darwin Correspondence Project.
Cambridge, 814 pp., £94.99, October 2018, 978 1 108 47540 2
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... Victorian years. From the world of Landseer and Dickens to that of Henry James and Whistler, what Charles Darwin elsewhere called the ‘tone’ of mind had changed.Darwin turned 69 in February 1878. He felt that ‘large & difficult subjects’ were now beyond him and that ‘considering my age … it will be the more ...

On Darwin’s Trouble with the Finches

Andrew Berry: The genius of Charles Darwin, 7 March 2002

Evolution’s Workshop: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands 
by Edward Larson.
Penguin, 320 pp., £8.99, February 2002, 0 14 100503 3
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... had been at sea for nearly four years, and, as he wrote to his Cambridge mentor, John Henslow, Charles Darwin was increasingly anxious to get home: ‘I look forward with joy and interest to [visiting the Galapagos], both as being somewhat nearer to England, & for the sake of having a good look at an active Volcano.’ He had cause to expect some ...

Lotharios

Steve Jones, 10 September 1992

The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee: How our animal heritage affects the way we live 
by Jared Diamond.
Vintage, 360 pp., £6.99, August 1992, 0 09 991380 1
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... see in our own, to explain the human condition as an inevitable consequence of our biology. Even Charles Darwin was at fault. Hidden in his unpublished notebooks is the damning passage: ‘Origin of Man now proved – metaphysics must flourish – he who understands baboons will do more towards metaphysics than Locke.’ ...

Learned Insane

Simon Schaffer: The Lunar Men, 17 April 2003

The Lunar Men: The Friends who Made the Future 
by Jenny Uglow.
Faber, 588 pp., £25, September 2002, 0 571 19647 0
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... Soon after his 70th birthday, Charles Darwin sat down to compose a Life of his grandfather Erasmus, poet and sage of 18th-century Lichfield, brilliant physician, mechanical inventor, incorrigible heretic and evolutionist.* The biography was a mix of piety and polemic. Erasmus Darwin’s fate, his chronic diseases, strenuous urging of social and organic progress, and posthumous obloquy, were too close for comfort to his grandson’s hopes and fears ...
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. IV: 1847-1850 
edited by Frederic Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 744 pp., £32.50, February 1989, 0 521 25590 2
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Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction 
by George Levine.
Harvard, 336 pp., £21.95, November 1988, 0 674 19285 0
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... How clever of Nature to ‘choose’ Darwin to teach the world that she has, against the prevailing view of natural theology, no purpose, no teleology, no choice. No one could be more gentlemanly, cautious, desirous of conforming, unwilling to shock or upset – yet no one could be more deliberate, more stubborn in holding to an opinion once embraced – than Darwin ...

How far down the dusky bosom?

Eric Korn: The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals by Charles Darwin, 26 November 1998

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals 
by Charles Darwin, edited by Paul Ekman.
HarperCollins, 473 pp., £16.99, February 1998, 0 00 255866 1
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... to laugh at?’ When I was in my teens, Expression of the Emotions was the most approachable of Darwin’s books and hence, to a lazy student, the most familiar. Natural Selection was an obvious truth; its theocidal consequences delightful; but the evidence, from palaeontology, from population studies, required hard graft among the bones and the bone-hard ...

An Ugly Baby

Andrew Berry: Alfred Russel Wallace, 18 May 2000

Footsteps in the Forest: Alfred Russel Wallace in the Amazon 
by Sandra Knapp.
Natural History Museum, 96 pp., £16.95, November 1999, 0 565 09143 3
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... was 35 and stricken with malaria in what is now Indonesia when, in 1858, he wrote a letter to Charles Darwin in England that would send Darwin into a tailspin. In a feverish ‘flash of light’, Wallace had independently stumbled on the theory of natural selection. Darwin had ...

Almighty Gould

Roy Porter, 23 April 1987

Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle: Myth and Metaphor in the Discovery of Geological Time 
by Stephen Jay Gould.
Harvard, 219 pp., £15.50, May 1987, 0 674 89198 8
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... scientific textbooks. There the ritual incantation of deities and devils – with Galileo, Newton, Darwin worshipped on the one side, and Descartes, Lamarck, Lysenko anathematised on the other – provides exemplars to imitate and moral lessons to avoid. Each science, of course, boasts its own dramatis personae for the performance of these hagiographical and ...

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