Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography: A Book That Shook the World

Darwin's Origin of Species: A Biography: A Book That Shook the World

Janet Browne

Language: English

Pages: 125

ISBN: 184354394X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


No book has changed our understanding of ourselves more than Darwin's Origin of Species. It caused a sensation on its first day of publication in 1859 and went on to become an international bestseller. The idea that living things gradually evolve through natural selection profoundly shocked its Victorian readers, calling into question what had been for many the unshakeable belief that there was a Creator. In this book, Janet Browne, Charles Darwin's foremost biographer, shows why Darwin's Origin of Species can fairly claim to be the greatest science book ever published. She describes the genesis of Darwin's theories, explains how they were initially received and examines why they remain so contentious today. Her book is a marvellously readable account of the work that altered forever our knowledge of what it is to be human.

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Such is usually assumed to be the case. To it might be added his religious qualms, a self-imposed punishing work schedule, the ceaseless publishing activities, duties in London’s learned societies and worries about the future. There is little evidence for physical causes for his ill-health such as arsenic poisoning, allergies, lupus or Chagas disease, a South American disorder transmitted by the black bugs of the pampas that Darwin may have picked up during his travels. Some 150 years later it is

were his ‘current love’ he told Hooker enthusiastically, and a hit with the young family. In them Darwin sought direct observational evidence of the inheritance of traits such as black wing feathers or the reversion of fancy breeds back to an ancestral type. In a manner of speaking he tried the same thing with plants in the greenhouse, but here he was looking for evidence of variability and how incipient species became mutually sterile. Many of these experimental questions were raised by him in

recoiled from seeing nature the way his selection theory demanded. ‘What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low & horridly cruel works of nature!’ he once exclaimed to Hooker.16 ‘I have been so wearied and exhausted of late,’ he complained in September 1859. ‘I have for months doubted whether I have not been throwing away time & labour for nothing.’ Then, on 1 October 1859, he recorded in his diary, ‘Finished proofs’, and calculated that the whole process

materia medica – a much more informal arrangement than today. Very young men could attend the university by taking a handful of courses before they settled down to serious study. After a diligent start, sixteen-year-old Darwin found the realities of early nineteenth- century medicine upsetting. Two ‘very bad’ operations, one on a child, convinced him he would never make a doctor (this was long before the age of anaesthetics) and he left in 1827. During that short period, however, he was exposed

for example, in August 1999, decided to make evolution optional in the criteria it issues for science teaching. Hence evolution is no longer covered in standardized tests for Kansas schoolchildren. Kentucky has deleted the word ‘evolution’ and substituted ‘change over time’. These shifts in public opinion deeply worry scientists. Certainly, many scientists feel that an understanding of religious traditions has a relevant place in every child’s education, not least in lessons on history and the

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