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Charles Darwin

by Janet Browne

Library Journal : This volume concludes a magisterial biography. The first volume, Charles Darwin: Voyaging, examined how the young Darwin formed his ideas. Now Browne, a zoologist and historian of science, offers a frank, comprehensive, and detailed account of the last half of Darwin's life (l858-82), focusing on both his major contributions to natural history and his pioneering researches into many biological subjects, ranging from orchids and insectivorous plants to the inheritance of characteristics and earthworms. She stresses the serious scientific and theological controversies that surrounded the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (l871) and emphasizes the great value Darwin found in his relationships with like-minded naturalists such as Charles Lyell, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, and Alfred Wallace. Besides all the facts, ideas, and events, the reader also discovers the human side of the scientific father of organic evolution. Of special interest is Browne's attention to Darwin's quiet family life at Down House, including insights into his voluminous correspondence and debilitating ill health. In this very impressive volume, Darwin emerges as a modest and private genius consumed with the need to understand the complexities of life forms through critical observation and persistent experimentation. Highly recommended for all academic and public science collections. H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY

Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms

Publishers Weekly : When Browne published her first volume on the life of Darwin seven years ago (Charles Darwin: Voyaging), she secured her reputation as the last word on the Victorian naturalist. Now she has published the much-anticipated second half, and it is more spellbinding than the first, which ended on a cliffhanger of sorts. Darwin was back from his Beagle voyages, his famous evolutionary principles were distilled in his mind and the Bible-centered science of his day was about to be convulsed forever. Here, Browne picks up the story a year before the publication of On the Origin of Species, with the arrival of a package from Alfred Russel Wallace, whose own ideas on natural selection virtually mirrored Darwin's, forcing him to go public; as Browne shows, he proved himself a master tactician of institutional and media spin. Browne's subject is monumental, but her writing style is never overburdened by the weight. Rather, her prose is elegant in its clarity of thought, her craftsmanship impeccable in the way it weaves a coherent whole from the innumerable threads of thought, experience and persona that comprised this colossal life. Darwin's science, Browne contends, was characterized by his systematic use of correspondence, which the author puts to effective use in her narrative, again illustrating how the naturalist's thought was as much the collective product of his day as it was its single-most intellectual catalyst. Readers are left with the image of the sailor returned home to dig in his garden, stare into the past and, in dying, slip into legend.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. Distributed by Syndetic Solutions Inc. Terms