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One might think that enough had been said about Darwin and Darwinism for the moment--but veteran biographer Clark has come up with sufficient new personal material, in the book's first half, to warrant the attention of knowing readers as well as neophytes. He skips over Darwin's early childhood and desultory university clays to concentrate on the Beagle and its aftermath: marriage, settling in at Down, the daily routine of writing and study. Darwin, in Clark's portrayal, is not just a scholar conducting microscopic studies and building up a body of descriptive data, but also the father who enjoyed his children (indeed, studied them a la Piaget) and the active enthusiast. He delighted in a hothouse stocked by friend Joseph Hooker and other notable botanists. He took the water cure for his lifelong ills, and even installed a primitive outdoor shower which he used in the fiercest cold. Characteristically, Darwin accumulated notebooks and chapters, and put off publishing, until the issue became forced. Here, Clark does well by the tale of the Wallace letters and the urgings of Lyell and Hooker to get something into print. He also deals intelligently with the revisionists who would give credit to Wallace or Edward Blyth, and sets a clear path through the decades following publication of the Origins, to the point of making it plain that no one knows exactly what Huxley said to Wilberforce in the great debate. The latter parts of the book are less lively and cover more familiar ground: reception of the theory of evolution by natural selection in Europe and in America; the rise of Mendelianism and the new science of genetics; the importance of population geneticists Ronald Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane in helping achieve the new synthesis; and contemporary developments in molecular biology. Clark closes on the rebirth of the old problem of the Bible vs. natural selection, and the new theories (punctuated equilibria, cladistics) seized upon by Darwin detractors, but in fact grounded in evolutionary principles. A commendable tribute to the man and his ideas.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Random House