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This Thing of Darkness [Paperback]

Harry Thompson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Jun 2005
This is an epic novel of sea-faring adventure set in the 19th century charting the life of Robert Fitzroy, the captain of `The Beagle` and his passenger Charles Darwin. It combines adventrure, emotion, ideas, humour and tragedy as well as illuminating the history of the 19th century. Fitzroy, the Christian Tory aristocrat, believed in the sanctity of the individual, but his beliefs destroyed his career and he committed suicide. Darwin, the liberal minor cleric doubts the truth of the Bible and develops his theory of evolution which is brutal and unforgiving in human terms. The two friends became bitter enemies as Darwin destroyed everything Fitzroy stood for.

Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Headline Review; Export/airside Ed edition (6 Jun 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0755327144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0755327140
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 5.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,026,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A bestseller is easy and picturesque yarn made muscular by historical fact and philisophical ideas' -- Observer

'A brilliant historical novel. An impressive book; something big that deserves attension' -- Mail On Sunday

'It's an excellent read, in the traditions of Patrick O'Brian, and fully deserves its position on the Booker list' -- Daily Telegraph

The Spirit of Patrick O'Brian is not far away THIS THING OF DARKNESS IS... a superior adventure story' -- The Independent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Packed full of action, vivid characters, ideas and explorations of science and religion, this brilliant historical novel was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2005

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting read 1 Feb 2006
By A Customer
This Thing of Darkness is an engrossing account of two protagonists, Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin from their early days together on The Beagle, spanning over thirty years. Harry Thompson has created a fascinating book that evokes the spirit of their adventures, their regular debates and philosophy that led them to develop their scientific thinking further in their careers and the history of the people they encountered. Based on historical fact, the conversation and description is effectively blended in to make an enthralling read. I was amused to note the authors postcript on how he used words from Tony Blair in a monologue by an Argentinian dictator.
It's not a dry, boring biography but completely fascinating. I was enthralled from start to finish.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read 14 Aug 2005
This is a wondeful book tracing the intertwining lives of Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy. It has everything. FitzRoy was the brilliant captain of the Beagle, who shared a cabin with Darwin for 5 years whilst his ship was charting out new maps of the South Atlantic for the Admiralty. Darwin's "discoveries" and heretical views challenged everything that Fitzroy believed in. The book covers religious arguments and bigotry. It tells of racial experiments when natives were brought to England to be "civilised" and then sent back. It also describes the effects of depression. At the end of his career Fitzroy studied weather patterns and was the father of modern metereology. His storm forecasts saved thousands of lives. A taste of things to come - Britain conceived the idea but the Americans actually took it up and developed it.
Altogether a great read. I could not put the book down on holiday. Friends who have also bought the book have been similarly enthused.
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59 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph 25 July 2005
By The Man from the Ministry TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
This is one of the few books that I would read again. At first glance, Harry Thompson may not seem the obvious choice to write a novel about Charles Darwin and Robert FitzRoy - his c.v. reads more like a Who's Who of British television comedy of the 1990's (he produced 'Have I Got News For You' Harry Enfield etc...). However this meticulously researched novel is both entertaining and intellectually satisfying. Thompson not only gives a faithful and utterly compelling account of the lives of FitzRoy and Darwin, but also tackles the biggest issue of all.
This is not just a novel of ideas, but also one of action in which the narrative is driven forward by the extraordinary events experienced by the crew of the HMS Beagle. My favourite aspect of this novel is the wonderful sense of place. Apparently Harry Thompson travelled to all of the places described in this novel and it shows. His descriptions of the desolate landscape of Tierra del Fuego are incredibly evocative.
This is a wonderful novel, but don't just take my word for it. I've met several people who have read this book and they all loved it.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books I have ever read! 25 April 2006
I read a lot of books and had this on my shelf for a while. Although I am a quick reader I was kind of put off by the size of this book. I am so glad I finally picked it up! Please do not let this put you off!

This is a fantastic read from start to finish. Even though the book was a long read I didn't want it to end. I learnt so much about Darwin and Captain Fitzroy and Britain at that time. The characters are so well drawn that I felt like I knew them. I experienced every joy with them and felt moved to tears by each of their tragedies.

It has also taught me a lot about the British 'discoveries' of countries around the world and what is was like for those people living there. I was fascinated to learn about peoples ideas about creation at the time. I am now going to read 'Origin of the Species' by Darwin and also try to learn more about Fitzroy - who seems to epitomise the word gentleman (from his description in the book anyway).

The biggest tragedy of all is that Harry Thompson died this year. It is such a shame as he was clearly a very talented man. I will be recommending this to everyone I know!
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Towering Achievement 18 Nov 2005
This is a STUPENDOUS book.
It was longlisted for the 2005 Booker Prize but didn’t make it to the short list. I can’t understand why. True, there’s the occasional lapse of authorial concentration. At one point a character “nearly jumps out of his skin” and elsewhere two dishevelled sailors in an elegant street “stick out like a sore thumb”. On page 110 there’s a jarring, juddering, shuddering anachronism that nearly shook me off my chair and there’s a similar one on page 580. So the blemishes I found in 610 pages can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
These isolated infelicities are far outweighed by writing which will excite and stimulate your intelligence, throw you into the middle of terrifying storms at sea, move your heart and, at times amuse you, the description of a pompous prig on page 459 is a demolition job of Austenesque wit. And if, like me, it was an interest in Darwin that brought you to the book, there’s the self-satisfaction of witnessing the early signs of features that you know already will characterise his later life and work. How, for example, youthful, athletic vigour drained into reclusive valetudinarianism and how, although convinced that “any species was re-shaped to an extraordinary degree”, it was years before he published because “how he did not know”, there seemed “no mechanism to explain it”. We are smugly aware that he is to spend the next twenty years developing the theory of natural selection to explain it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent
This is a really exceptional novel, with a huge scope. At its heart is the relationship between Darwin and Robert FitzRoy - a hugely complex and, in its early stages, creative... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jerome
4.0 out of 5 stars A blockbuster in the best sense of the word
Not my usual sort of book but thoroughly enjoyable, if a little lengthy. A highly original slant on Charles Darwin's thoughts and travels from the point of view of Robert... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mrs AG
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I was actually lent the book by a friend and ended up buying 3 new copies as presents for friends and a second hand book for myself. Its one of those books you want to keep.
Published 5 months ago by SKiff
5.0 out of 5 stars great
Wonderful book, interesting, fascinating, captivating, insightful, clever, brilliant, factual, emotional, what more can I say. I would heartily recommend this book.
Published 6 months ago by thom Harrison
2.0 out of 5 stars Overlong, mediocre, reactionary
This was recommended by someone that I trust, but I really didn't like it. It is overlong and the writing is not that good. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jezza
5.0 out of 5 stars Heroic life of Captain Fitzroy of the Beagle.
Fascinating semi biographical life of the captain of the Beagle. Hair raising adventures & gritty realism really make one realise how lucky we are in this modern life. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Susan J. Easton
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely stunning
This is a beautiful book, ostensibly about the voyage of the HMS beagle, but in reality about the uneasy relationship between Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy. Read more
Published 7 months ago by V. Hayrabedian
5.0 out of 5 stars Probably the best novel I've read this century.
800 pages looks daunting, but they turn themselves. The book portrays Fitzroy (the Captain of the Beagle) as one of the great heroic figures of history.
Published 8 months ago by Flaherty
5.0 out of 5 stars I have read this book before and never finished it.
When I saw it on Kindle I had to buy it - you are led on a wonderful adventure of Charles Darwin. There is nothing stuffy about this book, it presents history in an interesting... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Mrs E M J Humphries
5.0 out of 5 stars Top ten novels
An excellent novel, based on fact and very well researched, about Robert Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle, on which Darwin made his famous voyages of discovery. Read more
Published 8 months ago by J. MacDonald
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