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The Evolution of Inanimate Objects [Hardcover]

Harry Karlinsky
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Feb 2012


While carrying out historical research at an Ontario asylum, psychiatrist Harry Karlinsky comes across a familiar surname in the register. Could the “Thomas Darwin of Down, England” be a relative of the famous Charles Darwin?

In a narrative woven from letters, photographs, historical documents and illustrations, what emerges is a sketch of Thomas’s life — the last of eleven children born to Charles Darwin. It tells of his obsession with extending his father’s studies into the realm of inanimate objects – kitchen utensils, to be precise. Can the theory of evolution be aplied to knives, forks and spoons?

In this stunning factitious biography, Karlinsky presents us with the tragically short life of Thomas Darwin, leaving the reader to decide how much is fact and how much is fiction.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: The Friday Project (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000745435X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007454358
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 20.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,388,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


“More memorable than any door-stopping wodge of prose presenting itself as a diagnosis of the state of the nation.” SCOTSMAN ON SUNDAY

“Karlinsky’s retelling of Darwinian family history is ingeniously wry and original. Prepare to be moved, amused and duped when you enter this quasi Victorian World.” Essie Fox, Author of THE SOMNAMBULIST

“Just when you think there’s nothing new to be done with the novel, along comes a book that pushes the form in a fresh direction. Harry Karlinsky’s extraordinary book slyly and playfully blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction, asking where one begins and the other ends. THE EVOLUTION OF INANIMATE OBJECTS is the work of a genuinely original imagination, a complete pleasure and like no other book you have ever read.” John Harding, author of FLORENCE & GILES

About the Author

Harry Karlinsky is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A different, quirky, and interesting novel 3 Nov 2012
The title of this book intrigued me. Nothing appeared odd about it at all: inanimate objects do change over time, don't they? Take, for instance, aircraft. As an example, one might start with the hot air balloon and end with the Curiosity spacecraft. The two couldn't be more different, yet they both, at their basic function, perform the same task. And don't antiques develop a patina, a character of their own, by absorbing--or shedding off--atoms over time? That might be stretching the term "evolution" a little, but not as much as Thomas Darwin, the subject of this book, stretches this idea.
The story begins when Harry Karlinsky, the author, starts a research project at Ontario's London Asylum and happens to come across the surname Darwin. Karlinsky's curiosity is piqued, and he sets out to learn if the person admitted to the hospital on July 2, 1879 was any relation to the famed naturalist, Charles Darwin. He soon discovers the person noted in the ledgers is, indeed, the last child of Charles and Emma Darwin. Through the personal correspondence between the Darwin family, recorded history, and the asylum records, Karlinsky pulls together the story of Thomas. The reader understands this is a work of fiction from the proclamation printed on the front cover stating it is a novel.
But where does fact end and fiction begin? It is sometimes hard to tell. Replete with charts, sketches, and footnotes, the novel sets the reader on a venture to find out. For someone who loves puzzles, and scavenger hunts, this is an added bonus. I even started to wonder if Mr. Karlinsky was part of the ruse. But, after hard investigation, my conclusion is that he does exist. I could be wrong, and, if I am, then someone went to a lot of trouble to make him appear to be a real person.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read that makes me think 3 Oct 2012
The entirely plausible story of the tragic life of Thomas Darwin, youngest son of Charles Darwin of evolutionary fame. Thomas applies his father's principles of evolution to inanimate objects, focusing especially on silverware.

I found this a fascinating read. It is presented as a combination of a historical paper and Thomas's scientific papers. I can imagine that the somewhat drier narrative style is not suited to all readers, but it was quite enjoyable to me. It is well-written and maintained my interest. It made me laugh more than once.

Note that I am not well-enough familiar with Charles Darwin's own writing to compare the style. But I did find everything in the book both credible and plausible and was constantly contemplating where the line was between fact and fiction.

If you think about it, how many have considered Charles Darwin insane for his theories, especially in earlier times. So it isn't surprising for the the son who relies on the same scientific basis for his theories to end up in an asylum. The book made me think, which is something I tend to appreciate in a book. I can personally think of more than one person likely to enjoy the book.

I am also very pleased to report that I have no complaints about the editing and was completely without urges to run and find a red pen. That in itself is a joy.

I recommend it to anyone who enjoys thinking outside the box.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my promise to review it. That fact has not modified my rating or review at all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evolution of Inanimate Objects 12 Mar 2012
What a great idea for a novel - take the most famous evolutionist in the history of science, a son who didn't exist and construct a 'factitious' biography of said son's 'Life and Collected Works'.

Thomas Darwin is purported to be the youngest son of the famous Charles, daughter of Emma (nee Wedgwood, yes the pottery people). His mum and dad are first cousins (a trifling matter, but neatly ironic). Thomas is a bit of a strange child, 'alone but not lonely' and more than likely to follow in his father's footsteps, except - as we already know from the cover, and the Preface (but keep forgetting because we're so drawn into this life story) Thomas will die in an insane asylum by the time he's 21 and his 'life's work' will culminate in an ultimately flawed study of the evolution of inanimate objects.

I loved the premise that inanimate objects actually evolve. I'm moving house soon, and while reading the book in the pre-move sorting out phase, found myself noting the three generations of apple macs, the leap in evolution from the 56k dial up modem to wi-fi router, pestle and mortar via food processor - getting carried away now, don't own a food processor - but you see where I'm going. I was intrigued and totally taken up with Thomas's theory, until I spot the flaw, the uh-oh moment when the reader realises that Thomas Darwin is insane.

Harry Karlinsky is a clever guy. Not only is he a Professor of Psychiatry, but this little book (just over 200 pages) is his debut novel. The reason it works so well? Not only is the biographical format anatomically correct and wonderfully annotated (watch out for footnotes that contradict the text!), but because it tells a very human story.
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