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Charles Darwin

by Janet Browne

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. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Choice This fascinating account of Darwin's later years (1858-82) continues where the first volume (Charles Darwin: A Biography. v.1: Voyaging, CH, Oct'95) ended, successfully weaving together details of Darwin's life so readers are drawn irresistibly into his world. Living the life of a country squire in Downe and happily married to his cousin Emma, Darwin enjoyed a solid reputation as a naturalist. When full explication of his evolutionary theory was published (1859), he received accolades from peers although some did not completely accept his chief mechanism of evolution, natural selection. Browne understands Darwin's role in presenting a coherent evolutionary theory to a society growing more receptive to such ideas and recognizes that Darwin's long and productive life bridged the England of Jane Austen and Victorian times, but does not assume that Darwin was shaped exclusively by the later period. There is much in this captivating and well-documented book for general readers and scholars alike--e.g., how Darwin negotiated an advance against royalties so his publisher, John Murray, would not make "an unfair profit out of his hard work"--and it is supported by many fine photographs and illustrations depicting individuals and events in Darwin's life and career. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-division undergraduates through professionals. J. S. Schwartz CUNY College of Staten Island

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Book list This is Browne's second book in her two-volume biography of Charles Darwin, and it begins where Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995) left off--with the arrival of the legendary letter from Alfred Russel Wallace. Famous though it is, this missive's praise of Darwin, prompting his writing of On the Origin of Species, still yields fresh insights as a result of Browne's discerning, thorough research. Most interesting is her account of the close interest Darwin took in the financial arrangements made with the publisher of his revolutionary book and in the reviews it received. The portrait that emerges is less the wealthy, unworldly squire in the shire, and more the modern author who participates in the marketing of his books and in refuting negative reviews. In this respect, Browne presents Darwin as a bridge figure between the eras of the scientist-as-amateur and the scientist-as-celebrity. Much as he preferred puttering in his greenhouse and playing the pater familias, Darwin was keenly involved in promoting himself to the public--albeit through behind-the-scenes means. An authoritative capstone to Browne's opus. --Gilbert Taylor

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

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. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/02.] H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Browne completes her biography of Darwin, following up a first volume that appeared seven years ago. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.