Charles Darwin

He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors,[5] and in a joint publication with Alfred Russel Wallace introduced his scientific theory that this branching pattern of Evolution resulted from a process that he called Natural Selection, in which the struggle for existence has a similar effect to the artificial selection involved in Selective Breeding.

Janet Browne wrote a number of books about him.

  • Cosma Shalizi reviews her Voyaging which covers Darwin from birth to 1856: she fills the space, not with the quotidian details of Darwin's life, but with the lives of the people around him. Her great theme is that Darwin was, so to speak, a team project, the summed achievement of the efforts of a vast number of people (Darwin himself not least, of course).
  • Jai Virdi review: In one review of this biography, the writer states that Browne’s book might as well have been called Darwin: Networking. Browne explicitly states: “Darwin’s greatest gift [during the time at Cambridge] was not so much the ability to understand nature’s secrets, if he had it to any degree as an undergraduate, but a capacity to identify the people capable of giving and inspiring him in the loyal affection he desired. On such affections his ultimate success as a naturalist depended” (124). Clearly, Browne discredits the picture of Darwin as a lonely figure working within an intellectual vacuum, arguing instead that his social and scientific networks were necessary for establishing his reputation as a man of science. The “Cambridge Network” which included Henslow, Sedgwick, and Francis Beaufort, was essential in getting Darwin on board the Beagle. The same network was also responsible for publishing and advertising Darwin’s writing even before he returned to England. Browne also constructs Darwin as a man who forged relationships and relied on them... Other minor themes that occur: Victorian Class Arrangements, Scientific Culture and Correspondence, Science and Morality, Process of Scientific Discovery.

Browe's Power Of Place covered the rest of his life.

  • Danny Yee summarizes both volumes.
  • ASByatt reviews it: Wallace was a solitary explorer and wanderer. Darwin was a recluse who lived in the midst of web within web of intersecting social relationships. Browne emphasizes the role of the postal system - "the pre-eminent collective enterprise of the Victorian period" - in Darwin's research, in his friendships and support systems as the social and cultural effects of The Origin proliferated, and in his family life... She understands both his country gentleman's reclusiveness and his intellectual sociability. She characterises his style as one of "artless intimacy", comparing it to that of Gilbert White and Sterne, saying that Darwin "spontaneously tapped into well-known and unthreatening literary genres". The style, she says, is the man, "a reputable scientific gentleman, courteous, trustworthy and friendly ... a champion of common sense ... and scornful of mere conjecture". He wrote in 1859: "If I know myself, I work from a sort of instinct to try to make out truth."
  • Keith Thompson: Not only did he defend, he attacked. It is hard to know which to admire more, the skill with which he and his band of disciples went about preparing the ground for the Origin (shrewdly distributing advance copies to potential opponents, for example) or the zeal with which they all, after publication, set about savaging (not always fairly) the critics. Although we are familiar with THHuxley's role as Darwin's bulldog, Darwin was quite capable of being his own rottweiler. When a paper by his son Francis was rejected by the Royal Society of London, Darwin ruthlessly counterattacked in Nature. In 1873, St. George Mivart got into a spat with Darwin's son George over a sort of proto-eugenics. Darwin nearly went to court on behalf of George (who was in the wrong) and later blackballed Mivart for membership in the Athenaeum... The reader is gripped by the unfolding drama in 1858 and 1859 as first the Wallace letter appeared, then the campaigns began—to make a joint announcement with Wallace and to write the "abstract" of the "larger work" that he had originally intended. That sort of trial might have felled most of us.
  • Frank Sulloway pairs Power Of Place with Michael Shermer's biography of Alfred Russel Wallace. The most powerful theme of her narrative, however, transcends these temporal markers of Darwin’s life and work and chronicles Darwin’s abilities as a tactician. At least four different kinds of strategies (literary, collaborative, social, and experimental—although not all explicitly identified as such by Browne) governed Darwin’s successful orchestration of the revolution in science that now bears his name (cf Scientific Method)... What we see from Shermer’s biography, however, is just how different these two men were in so many crucial ways that profoundly affected their scientific thinking.

Edited: |

blog comments powered by Disqus