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Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest [Hardcover]

Adrian Desmond
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Nov 1997 0201959879 978-0201959871
Selected as one of the Best Books of 1997 by the Editors of The New York Times Book Review, Huxley is an amazing portrait of the Victorian scientific world told through the epic story of the man who brought science to the masses.. T. H. Huxley (18251895) was Darwins bloody-fanged bulldog. His giant scything intellect shook a prim Victorian society; his Devils gospel of evolution outraged. He put agnostic into the vocabulary and cave men into the public consciousness. Adrian Desmonds fiery biography with its panoramic view of Dickensian life explains how this agent provocateur rose to become the centurys greatest prophet. Touching the crowning achievements and the crushing depths of both the man and his times, this is the epic story of a courageous genius whose life summed up the social changes from the Victorian to the modern age. Written with enormous zest and passion, Huxley is about the making of our modern Darwinian world. }T. H. Huxley (18251895) was Darwins bloody-fanged bulldog. His giant scything intellect shook a prim Victorian society; his Devils gospel of evolution outraged. He put agnostic into the vocabulary and cave men into the public consciousness. Adrian Desmonds fiery biography with its panoramic view of Dickensian life explains how this agent provocateur rose to become the centurys greatest prophet.Synoptic in its sweep and evocative in its details, Desmonds biography reveals the poverty and opium-hazed tragedies of young Tom Huxleys life as well as the accolades and triumphs of his later years. The drug-grinders apprentice knew sots and scandals and breakdowns that signaled a genius close to madness. As surgeons mate on the cockroach-infested frigate Rattlesnake, he descended into hell on the Barrier Reef, but was saved by a golden-haired girl in the penal colony.Huxley pulled himself up to fight Darwins battles in the 1860s, but left Darwin behind on the most inflammatory issues. He devasted angst-ridden Victorian society with his talk of ape ancestors, and tantalized and tormented thousands-from laborers to ladies of society, cardinals to Karl Marxwith his scintillating lectures. Out of his provocations came our image of science warring with theology. And out of them, too, came the Wests new faith-agnosticism (he coined the new word).Champion of modern education, creator of an intellectually dominant profession, and president of the Royal Society, in Desmonds hands Huxley epitomizes the rise of the middle classes as the clawed power from the Anglican elite. His modern godless universe, intriguing and terrifying, millions of years in the making, was explored in his laboratory at South Kensington; his last pupil, H. G. Wells, made it the foundation of twentieth-century science fiction.Touching the crowning achievements and the crushing depths of both the man and his times, this is the epic story of a courageous genius whose life summed up the social changes from the Victorian to the modern age. Written with enormous zest and passion, Huxley is about the making of our modern Darwinian world. }

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 848 pages
  • Publisher: Perseus Books (1 Nov 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201959879
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201959871
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,678,444 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book 2 Oct 2010
By Gareth Simon TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
It is many years since I read this, but having read the other review, I just want to note that at the time I thought it the best science-history book I had read for many years - since the author's Hot Blooded Dinosaurs, in fact. Some might find it a bit heavy going, especially the dissection of many aquatic creatures, but it is worth persevering.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough but flawed 5 July 1999
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
While this is an extremely thorough and complete review of Huxley's life and work, I found several problems with the book. In brief, these include: A Hemingwayesque type of writing (short declaratory sentences) without H's style to pull it off. An overuse of adjectives by about a factor of three. Many sentences that, in spite of being short, were hard to disentangle grammatically. My most serious criticism of the content, though, is that the author stuck much too closely to a time-line rather than an idea or subject line. For example, he makes the statement, in several places, that finally Huxley saw the light and fully bought into evolution and natural selection as presented by Darwin. But he never seems to explain this: why the hesitancy and why the "sudden" conversion. There is too much mixing up of private life with scientific ideas. And no real counter is given to Huxley's antipathy to Owen whose work seems to be at least as long-lived as Huxley's (dinosaurs?). For my taste, a much more satisfying way of writing scientific biography can be found by reading Janet Browne's first vol. of a bio. of Darwin ("Coasting").
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive and exhausting 24 Sep 2003
By Luke D Jasenosky - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've never read a book quite like Desmond's. He is an extremely talented writer and is obviously enthusiastic about Huxley, his "X club" cohorts, and Victorian England in general. Some of his prose is worth savoring, in fact. However, as other reviewers have mentioned, his talent and enthusiasm primarily result in a 650 page-long monograph of purple prose. It is difficult to find a single sentence on some pages that doesn't contain a simile (usually of an overwrought nature) or highly charged authorial proclamation. Although this practice certainly makes the writing lively, it also makes it extremely heavy-going and, at times, quite confusing. It is difficult to read more than a few pages at a time.
As for the book's material, it is never less than fascinating. Desmond is a thorough researcher, and he never fails to explore the major events in Huxley's life in proper detail. He is also enormously well-schooled in the world of Victorian science, university politics, and culture. Although he makes even the slightest struggle in Huxley's life seem like a battle for all time, he also succeeds in making "Hal" a truly sympathetic and utterly unparalleled individual. I had no problem with the straight narrative structure as other reviewers seem to have had, but many, many names popped in and out of the story with little information to refresh my memory and this grew tiresome.
In short, I recommend giving this book a shot. You may tolerate or even enjoy Desmond's prose. There is a lot of wonderful information about a wonderful and remarkable man to be imbibed. However, be warned that it will most likely be a murky, if hot and spicy, pool to wade through.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best science biographies ever 16 Jun 2005
By Alex Soojung-Kim Pang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've read Adrian Desmond's Huxley biography several times since its initial publication a decade ago. When I first read it, I thought it was a tour de force; ten years later, it still holds up.

Desmond is a brilliant biographer: his "Darwin" (co-authored with James Moore) and his studies of Robert Owen have been deeply influential among historians of science. The difference between those books and this one, though, is that Desmond obviously likes Huxley: he admires the young Huxley's drive and ambition; his willingness to take risks; his ferocious, furious determination to succeed in despite lack of connections or inheritance (Victorian Britain wasn't so far from Jane Austen when Huxley was striking out on his own); and his incredible success. As much as any single individual, Huxley deserves credit for creating our modern notion of what science can do, and how scientists should be treated-- by the state, by the general public, by universities. It's the bulldog's world; we just live in it.

The hip-hop criticism is astute. The book is actually filled with references to earlier histories of science: nearly every page has a play on the title of some book or article. Insiders will get them; apparently they're noticeable, but distracting, to others.

Still, the book is a model for how to write biography, and probably the best introduction to Victorian science and culture around today.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars amazing subject completely ruined 5 July 2001
By "haka21" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Thomas Huxley deserves better than this meandering, plodding tome. What should have been a facinating biography is lost in the obtuse style the author uses. On the plus side--there are some very good passages and pockets of wonderful information, and the bibliography is amazingly complete. On the minus side--the shining bits are so deeply hidden in the depths of the authors quagmire style you may need a machete to find them. I also agree with some earlier posts that a thematic approach would be preferrable to a strictly chronological narrative.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hip Hop Hagiography 14 Mar 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Rarely have I encountered such an awkward and opaque writing style. Desmond uses the sampling techniques of hip-hop, producing sentences by stringing together various quotes and quote fragments. The result manifests neither rhythm nor flow as the reader must laboriously decode even the shortest sentences. The overall result is that the book which although it has fair to good factual and analytical content has a fragmentary feel about it and is in general a chore to read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Bio! We Could Sure Use a Huxley Today in USA! 7 Sep 2005
By S. Henkels - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
What a fine book and bio! The author stated that he is most interested in placing TH Huxley into the context of his times, late 19th Century England, and the world, and he succeeds completely! From THH's humble origins with descriptions of the slums of 1840's London, through the amazing Rattlesnake voyage to Australia and New Guinea, and onward to the world's #1 Iconoclast (Nietzsche came a little later), this book reads like the best novel, with tons of biology, paleontology,history of science, theological debunking, and English history all included. Not to mention the sometimes difficult financial and family life of the founder of the famous 20th century Huxleys. THH was obvious as close to a universal scientific genius and spokeman as we'll ever have! Very strange how his many claims for science in school were accepted in Britain by the 1890's, but are still controversial in 2000's USA!
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