Dec 22, 2014

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Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography

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Book Jacket

Author: Janet Browne

I give a series of lectures on the life of Darwin based largely on an excellent and comprehensive two-book biography by Janet Browne (Darwin: Voyaging and Darwin: The Power of Place). As I read them, I carefully noted the important parts of his life as they applied to the development of his theory. It was a labor of love. Then Janet Browne comes along and does precisely what I did and puts it into this compact little book. Yes, I’m a little bitter. Still, it is an excellent account of the way that Darwin, very much a creature of Victorian England, constructed his paradigm-shifting theory. The book does go on to consider the way the book influenced scientists and society after its publication. I bet few know that many scientists of the late 19th and early 20th century had more or less considered Darwin’s ideas dead, as they seemed inconsistent with Mendelian genetics. That proved to be completely wrong, but it took brilliant scientists like Sewell Wright, J.B.S. Haldane and R.A. Fisher to show how natural selection, and evolution in general, can not be understood without genetics. The book also examines some controversies that bubbled up after the publication of his book. For instance, some misunderstood and misused his theory and used it as an excuse to propagate their vile social and political aims. In the end, Janet Browne argues that The Origin of Species is “…one of the hubs of transformation of Western thought.”


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