DARWIN by Michael White


A Life in Science
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Two well-known science writers turn their hands to a can't- lose proposition: a biography of the most important scientist of the century in which science came of age. This is the third collaborative biography by White and Gribbin (Einstein, 1994; Stephen Hawking, 1992). While this popular treatment doesn't compare either in scope or in scholarship with recent full-length biographies of its subject (notably Janet Browne's Charles Darwin, of which the first volume appeared earlier this year), it admirably fulfills the nonspecialist's needs. The authors concentrate on the ways in which Darwin's career led to On the Origin of Species, and they make a special effort to clarify the meaning of his theory of evolution by natural selection. As a result, they waste little time describing Darwin's early life, cutting quickly to the voyage of the Beagle, on which he made many of the discoveries that gave him a solid reputation as a scientist and which inspired his research into the question of evolution. On the same principle, the authors give a comprehensive picture of those who developed the precursors to evolutionary theory (including Darwin's grandfather Erasmus); and their account of subsequent scientific research supporting Darwin's theory will be of more value to most readers than a detailed description of the events of Darwin's later life. He spent his last years in the quiet setting of his Kentish home, concerned more with uncontroversial biological research (e.g., on orchids and earthworms) than with the defense of his theory, which he left to more combative figures such as Thomas Huxley. And, sad to say, he spent much of that time backing away from the implications of his theory in the face of incomplete knowledge--a series of gaps that later researchers triumphantly filled in. A solid and quite readable introduction to Darwin for the reader interested in his major contribution to our understanding of the world: the theory of evolution.
Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-525-94002-2
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1995


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