DARWIN by Adrian Desmond


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 A sweeping biography in which Desmond (The Ape's Reflexion, 1979, etc.) and Moore (The Post-Darwinian Controversies--not reviewed) illustrate not only the familiar Darwinian thesis that life evolves--that it depends on an interplay of nature and culture and of inherited and acquired traits--but also the contemporary thesis that all science is in some way autobiographical. On a personal level, the authors say, Darwin developed from a pleasure-loving descendant of doctors and industrialists into an adventurer who undertook a five-year voyage around the world, and then into a recluse, a mad scientist racked by a mysterious illness, possibly psychogenic in origin, ruefully observing in his ten children the weaknesses he believed they had inherited by his marrying his first cousin. Professionally, Darwin was an observer and collector, interested in geology and zoology, famous in his own day for his tireless study of barnacles, worm castings, and pigeons, reluctant to theorize or to affirm the principles of evolution that had been evident to his grandfather Erasmus and were confirmed by most of the scientific community. Placing Darwin in context, Desmond and Moore demonstrate how social and political forces (the role of Malthus, the political radicals associated with the Westminster Review) contributed to his reading of nature. They also show Darwin participating in the professionalization of science, which developed from a collection of pious, wealthy gentlemen amateurs into various specialized and secularized disciplines with their own hierarchies and competition. Longer and more wide-ranging than John Bowlby's Charles Darwin (1991), this neglects Darwin's major strength: his own powerful, vivid, and imaginative prose. While valuable for the insights it offers on the age, it is not a substitute for Darwin's own autobiography and journals. (Fifty-six pages of photographs and drawings--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-446-51589-2
Page count: 832pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1992


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