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Darwin: A Life in Poems (Vintage Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Ruth Padel
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In these extraordinary poems, using multiple viewpoints - from Darwin himself, to his beloved wife Emma, and even, at one point, the orangutang at London Zoo - Ruth Padel illuminates the development of Darwin's thought, the drama of the discovery of evolution, and the fluctuating emotions of Darwin the husband, the naturalist and the tender father, in a powerful tribute to her famous ancestor.

Shortlisted for the 2009 Costa Poetry Award.

Product Description


"Ruth Padel's remarkable memoir of her great-great-grandfather is a sequence of exquisite, precise and moving poems that cover his science, travels, marriage and family life. Once I started reading I could not put it down until I had reached the end, and then I turned back for the pleasure of reading again." (Claire Tomalin)

"A fascinating, very rich book. It excitingly combines several large tasks and shows that Darwin's science sprang from the same aesthetic impulse as poetry. With sympathy and grace, Padel moves deftly between between science, love and family; between the vast processes of evolution and a personal life." (Sean O'Brien)

"A very bold book, probably unique: a life in verse, even painting parallel lives that influenced Darwin's like that of Alfred Russel Wallace. We all have our own Darwin, but poetry gets under the skin of the subject in a way conventional biography cannot match." (Richard Fortey)

"Ruth Padel's control of cadence and poetic diction is daring and exciting; her rhythm brilliant and subtle; the play with stanza form and technical tricks stunning and deeply impressive. Her handling of details and quotations from Darwin's life, letters and books is a lesson to biographers and poets alike." (Colm Toibin)


`a deft act of collaboration between the living and the dead, one melding easily with the other'.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 281 KB
  • Print Length: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (31 Mar. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007D15O28
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #397,278 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Ruth Padel is an award-winning British poet and author, who works in a wide range of fields: poetry, poetry criticism, wildlife and conservation, and also music. The Mara Crossing, her latest book of poems plus short prose pieces, on animal and human migration and immigration, was shortlisted for the 2012 Ted Hughes Award. Her poetry collection Darwin - A Life in Poems is a verse biography of her great-great-grandfather Charles Darwin.

Her next collection, Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, will come out in 2014. At its centre will be a series of poems on the Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross.

Since she is descended from Darwin, Ruth is passionate about wildlife conservation. She sits on the Council of the Zoological Society of London and for her prose book on wild tigers, Tigers in Red Weather, she spent years travelling through the threatened tiger forests of Asia with foresters and field zoologists, whose lives she wrote more about in her novel Where the Serpent Lives, which also features the tragic consequences of wildlife crime in both India and Britain. In summer 2013 she curated an innovative series of Writers Talks in London Zoo to highlight its conservation work, featuring leading writers and conservation scientists and a series of endangered animals.

Ruth is known as an inspiring teacher and reader: she pioneered POETRY WORKSHOP, BBC Radio 4, working with local poetry groups across the UK and has written much-loved books on reading poetry, such as 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem and The Poem and the Journey. She teaches Poetry in the Creative Writing School of King College London.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and started out as a scholar of ancient Greek. Her other passions are music, especially singing, Greece today,India, history and science. See follow her on Twitter @ruthpadel.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovingly realised biography 1 Jun. 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ruth Padel gives us a most enjoyable (and concise) guided tour through her illustrious ancestor's life. This beautifully fashioned little book is very well-researched, and Darwin's story most sympathetically related. Padels's great sensitivity to words is constantly on display. Every poem reads aloud beautifully. There are some fabulous images. ("Bristle of orchid leaves on every black branch/ Like green flames over Bibles.")

Some of the poems are of the "found" variety, being subtly modifiied extracts from letters and journals. Evidence of expert editorship, rather than pure poetic skills? Once I was caught up in Darwin's emotional and intellectual journey, I minded not at all. It was necessary to let us hear Charles' own voice (and others too, like his wife, and his contemporary, Wallace.) Many of the poems are accompanied by helpful explanatory notes, discreetly placed in the margins.

The book really soars (for me) in the final third - their life at Down House. Emma's pregnancies, Darwin's illness, and their rich family life are beautifully imagined. The tragic loss of daughter Annie is very moving. Well realised too is the reason we care about the man in the first place: his brilliant, patient researches and discoveries, which are brought to life succinctly and vividly. The final poems are terrifically poignant.

A life in poems is exactly what it promises, and I for one would be happy to see more lives celebrated in this unusual way. (The origin of a species perhaps?)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars RAVE REVIEW 14 April 2009
This book is so exciting! I am a scientist with a strong appreciation of Darwin's work. However, prior to reading this, I had no real interest in Darwin the man. All the recent anniversary hype had left me with a feeling there was something dry and Victorian about him.
Not so. Once I overcame my fear of the poetic form, and started reading this book, I found myself drawn into a real world, Darwin's world, which was fascinating, beautiful and, sometimes, terrible. (This was not an age in which to be sick, or be a child-bearing woman.) I felt I was living through Darwin's experiences, understanding him in his world, and really liking and approving of him as a person.
I know the poetry must be expertly crafted, because at no time did the form stand in the way of the information. It enhanced it, without even being very noticeable. This is such a fluid read, and, unbelievably, it's poetry, a form I usually find requires too much work for me, the reader!
This book is a brilliant and addictive, hard to put down. There must be some inherited Genius at work. Congratulations to Darwin's great-great-grand-daughter, Ruth Padel!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars crafted with loving elegance 26 May 2009
I reckon this little book is pretty extraordinary - beautiful and concise, it functions as both an informative biography and a loving tribute to a great man. It's easy to read, moving and vivid - if you're sick of all the Darwin hype, but nonetheless intrigued to know what all the fuss is about, read this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin and evolution 9 Aug. 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are excellent biographies of Darwin and there are many science poems, yet on both counts Ruth Padel breaks new ground. Not only you get a warm view of Darwin the man but also of his rigorous struggle to gather and interpret evidence with many insights that you will not find in current biographies. As regards science poetry this is the first time that I see poetry so well used in conveying what science research entails and that presents this in a way that it is sure to stimulate the young to be interested in natural science. And all this set in clear fluid verses that are a delight to read. I read this book twice during my summer holiday and it was by far the best read I had.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Emma Darwin can rest happy. She and Charles indeed "belong to each other for eternity" (her worried note to him about salvation - he kept it until the day he died), through this touching tribute from their great-great grand-daughter, Ruth Padel. One can imagine the interplay of their emotions reading it together - delight in memories of their ten children, but muscles contracting in sorrow at the three who died young. She will remember with relief the pains of childbirth and Charles be gladly free of his unwelcome daily companion since South America, Chagas disease.

This "life in poems" is a strange but compelling hybrid genre: if it were a segmented worm with iridescent wings it would undoubtedly be named as a new species. Some of the language is that of a writer already known for her naturalist' s eye and poet's ear, used here to recreate the effect on Darwin of the tropical rainforest:
"Leaves of all textures that a leaf
could be: palm, fluff, prickle, matte and plume;
bobbled; shaggy plush. A thousand shades
of ochre, silver, emerald, smoky brass.
He's walking into every dream he's ever seen."

Yet many of the poems are partially "found" ones, full of phrases straight from Darwin or others. A light but reassuring narrative thread is provided by notes running down the side of many poems, as well as by evocative titles: "A Quarrel in Bahia Harbour" shows Darwin making his opposition to slavery clear to Captain Fitzroy; "A Spot of Malaria in the Moluccas" leads into the fateful letter showing Darwin that Alfred Russel Wallace had also realised the mechanism by which species could change. It is no surprise that Charles' and Emma's genes should have helped shape such a well-crafted and affectionate bicentennial portrait. I read it at one sitting.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars My favourite, A Crunch on the Gravel
Lovely contribution to thinking about complexity. My favourite, A Crunch on the Gravel, Chris
Published 5 months ago by Chris
4.0 out of 5 stars A verse-novel biography
As part of the two anniversary events in 2009 – 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin and 150 after the publication of The Origin of Species, Ruth Padel has written an... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Douglas Kemp
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly rich and compelling
Ruth Padel's grandmother's grandfather was Charles Darwin, and her interest in this heritage shows in several poems from her previous collections. Read more
Published on 7 May 2013 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin
A fascinating treatment of a really interesting subject matter.. Meticulous , detailed writing which brings the central character fully to life.
Published on 10 April 2013 by helen kay
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin fans read this.
I chanced on this remarkable book whilst searching for books on Darwin on Amazon. To find a descendent with such a deep understanding of the personality of an ancestor and... Read more
Published on 23 May 2012 by Richard
1.0 out of 5 stars cheesy and obvious poetic targets the comparison with any great poet...
Procrustes himself could not have stretched one theme into such thin and cliched poetry.
Not worth further reviewing.

Mark Fyffe MA MD DPhil (Oxon)
Published on 25 May 2009 by James Fyffe
5.0 out of 5 stars moving and informative
These poems are beautiful: intelligent, moving and - as a biography - original. I also found the whole book a gripping read and sense that I have learnt a lot about Darwin.
Published on 18 April 2009 by E. Parsons
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwinian Delight
The Darwins are a talented bunch. When not engaged in the production of distinguished scientists, they do a not half bad job of turning out gifted wordsmiths. Read more
Published on 5 April 2009 by hbw
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin by Ruth Padel
A memorable (1) tribute to a very great man. Both author and subject are creative, original, and loving.

(1) Auden once described poetry as 'memorable speech'.
Published on 3 April 2009 by R. N. Wood
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