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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Place, 19 Feb 2003
By 
A. Bryan (Wales) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I thought this was an excellent biography of the second part of the life of Charles Darwin, and with the first volume by the same author, 'Voyaging', the definitive life of Darwin has been written.
I have read many of the other lives of Darwin and I think that this is undoubtedly the best. Although it is long, it is always interesting, bringing Darwin and the world he lived in to life. It conveys not only the difficulties of his life, his illness and the controversies of his work, but also the interest and fascination of the range of his interests and his extensive networks of contacts.
Darwin led a very full life at a time of great scientific advances and the two volumes, The Power of Place and Voyaging, add to our understanding of one of the people who was in the forefront of radical changes in the way in which we see the world.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentleman, gardener, genius, human . . ., 16 Jun 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Charles Darwin's "place" in history is secure. The concept of evolution by natural selection was "the single best idea anyone has ever had," as Daniel C. Dennett so aptly put it. Although the idea seems simple, Browne establishes that the man who conceived it was anything but that. In taking two substantial volumes to depict Darwin's life, Browne reveals the complexity and control hidden beneath his serene outward demeanor. For many years, Darwin's seclusion at Down House left the impression of the retired, retiring scientific thinker. On the contrary, Browne shows "a remarkable tactician" manipulating friends,
colleagues and, in the final analysis, society at large. This compelling study is the outstanding work on Darwin. Her focus on his motivations, activities and other aspects of what made him such a towering figure makes this a remarkable work. This magnificent study and its companion "Voyaging" will maintain their value as Darwin's pre-eminent account for many years.
The pivotal point, of course, is Darwin's 1859 book, The Origin of Species. Browne recounts the "Wallace letter" which nearly toppled Darwin from the place of priority in developing the idea of natural selection. Darwin's friends and colleagues rallied to sustain him while maintaining fairness to both him and Wallace. The many years of study Darwin had given to the concept resulted in the volume that changed our view of life, but it remains an open question whether he would have published without the "thunderbolt from Ternate." Browne's view isn't narrow, however, as she places Origin within the broader schema of Victorian writing, whether fiction, social commentary, poetry or science.
Browne leads us through the years of turmoil following publication of Origin. Strangely, she notes, the chief objectors were fellow scientists, not the religious establishment. Even the British Association debate, often considered the pivot point for making the public aware of the book's meaning, brought out a churchman who had been prompted by one of Darwin's scientific peers. Although Darwin remained at Down throughout the ensuing years, he maintained constant control of those who spoke for him. He reached Continental readers quickly, although troubled by freely editing translators.
This account portrays Darwin's "place" by almost every definition of the term. Browne shows Darwin's status among his colleagues, depicts him as a teacher, a father, a member of his community, both locally and in the grander Victorian Era setting. Darwin was a man of his class, most of which endorsed thinking and speculation. Most importantly, she shows his stature as a human, at times fearful, courageous, withdrawing, helpful to his friends and scornful of his enemies. He counseled his children, or used them for help, as the moment demanded. He sought to protect his wife, but Browne makes clear Emma was under few illusions of the meaning of natural selection. Darwin was no hypocrite, but was long in reaching his final dismissal of deities. Whatever the enduring nature of his idea, the man, Browne asserts, still remained a mortal figure.
Beyond Origin, Browne relates Darwin's conflicting feelings leading to later works - Descent of Man, plant domestication, orchids, emotional expression and the obscure world of earthworms. Many of these publications would later prove fundamentally supportive of natural selection. All required immense amounts of study, communication and writing. He tended his own plants, studied earthworms at night and used the new technology of phototgraphy. The variation in topics and methods reflects once again Darwin's genius, but even more his strengths as a naturalist. Little escaped his scrutiny and he was able to impart his findings with flowing prose reaching a wide public. All these accomplishments were achieved in spite of frequent illnesses, none of which were successfully treated.
We owe much to Darwin, and Browne has discharged a significant portion of the debt with this book. The labour of many years, it's an elegant portrayal, worthy of the effort so evident in its making. Whatever your interests, sit down with this book and meet the man Browne has re-introduced to us. It will be a rewarding experience. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shortlisted for the British Academy Book Prize 2003, 12 Dec 2003
This is the second volume of an outstanding biography of a great British scientist. This volume covers the period when Darwin refined and published his ideas on evolution. The science is elegantly described, but, more than that, the book gives the reader insight into the domestic life of an upper middle class family and the scientific and social associations of a quiet and reserved man thrust into the media limelight.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentleman, gardener, genius, human . . ., 16 Jun 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Charles Darwin's "place" in history is secure. The concept of evolution by natural selection was "the single best idea anyone has ever had," as Daniel C. Dennett so aptly put it. Although the idea seems simple, Browne establishes that the man who conceived it was anything but that. In taking two substantial volumes to depict Darwin's life, Browne reveals the complexity and control hidden beneath his serene outward demeanor. For many years, Darwin's seclusion at Down House left the impression of the retired, retiring scientific thinker. On the contrary, Browne shows "a remarkable tactician" manipulating friends,
colleagues and, in the final analysis, society at large. This compelling study is the outstanding work on Darwin. Her focus on his motivations, activities and other aspects of what made him such a towering figure makes this a remarkable work. This magnificent study and its companion "Voyaging" will maintain their value as Darwin's pre-eminent account for many years.
The pivotal point, of course, is Darwin's 1859 book, The Origin of Species. Browne recounts the "Wallace letter" which nearly toppled Darwin from the place of priority in developing the idea of natural selection. Darwin's friends and colleagues rallied to sustain him while maintaining fairness to both him and Wallace. The many years of study Darwin had given to the concept resulted in the volume that changed our view of life, but it remains an open question whether he would have published without the "thunderbolt from Ternate." Browne's view isn't narrow, however, as she places Origin within the broader schema of Victorian writing, whether fiction, social commentary, poetry or science.
Browne leads us through the years of turmoil following publication of Origin. Strangely, she notes, the chief objectors were fellow scientists, not the religious establishment. Even the British Association debate, often considered the pivot point for making the public aware of the book's meaning, brought out a churchman who had been prompted by one of Darwin's scientific peers. Although Darwin remained at Down throughout the ensuing years, he maintained constant control of those who spoke for him. He reached Continental readers quickly, although troubled by freely editing translators.
This account portrays Darwin's "place" by almost every definition of the term. Browne shows Darwin's status among his colleagues, depicts him as a teacher, a father, a member of his community, both locally and in the grander Victorian Era setting. Darwin was a man of his class, most of which endorsed thinking and speculation. Most importantly, she shows his stature as a human, at times fearful, courageous, withdrawing, helpful to his friends and scornful of his enemies. He counseled his children, or used them for help, as the moment demanded. He sought to protect his wife, but Browne makes clear Emma was under few illusions of the meaning of natural selection. Darwin was no hypocrite, but was long in reaching his final dismissal of deities. Whatever the enduring nature of his idea, the man, Browne asserts, still remained a mortal figure.
Beyond Origin, Browne relates Darwin's conflicting feelings leading to later works - Descent of Man, plant domestication, orchids, emotional expression and the obscure world of earthworms. Many of these publications would later prove fundamentally supportive of natural selection. All required immense amounts of study, communication and writing. He tended his own plants, studied earthworms at night and used the new technology of phototgraphy. The variation in topics and methods reflects once again Darwin's genius, but even more his strengths as a naturalist. Little escaped his scrutiny and he was able to impart his findings with flowing prose reaching a wide public. All these accomplishments were achieved in spite of frequent illnesses, none of which were successfully treated.
We owe much to Darwin, and Browne has discharged a significant portion of the debt with this book. The labour of many years, it's an elegant portrayal, worthy of the effort so evident in its making. Whatever your interests, sit down with this book and meet the man Browne has re-introduced to us. It will be a rewarding experience.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic follow up to the first volume, 27 Jan 2013
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charles Darwin Volume 2: The Power at Place: The Power of Place: Power of Place v. 2 (Paperback)
This is the sequel to the first volume of a superb biography, `Voyaging.'

The first is excellent but the second volume is even better. The story carries on from the late 1850s, when Darwin is on the cusp of publishing his `Origin of the Species'. Having spent over twenty years collecting the evidence, a feat that has left him on the brink of exhaustion, he is shocked to discover that a little known explorer called Alfred Russel Wallace has hit upon the very same theory he has. Darwin till now has prevaricated in publishing the results of his researches, dreading the controversy and calumny that he is convinced will be heaped upon him to suggest nature develops according to natural laws needing no guidance from a creator. And he hasn't even talked about man's kinship with the apes yet.

But publish he does, and the book goes on to describe the impact of the idea of evolution as the shockwaves radiate outwards from Down House. As the first volume of this biography attests, Darwin was no natural revolutionary. Much of the subsequent fighting and advocacy for the theory was done for him by people like Thomas Henry Huxley, founder of the so-called X dining club, assiduous propagators of Darwin's work. Browne gives a fascinating account not just of the man but also of the spread and influence of the idea of evolution. The idea that Darwin tore asunder the ties of a pious society is far from the truth. These ties were already being frayed by the intellectual tumult of the time, this tumult reaching into the heart of the Church of England itself with some churchmen even going as far as to question the very foundations of the Christian faith such as the virgin birth and resurrection.

Browne is fascinating in describing the cultural and intellectual impact of Darwin's ideas. That a study based largely on zoological observations, including barnacles, pigeons and livestock, could have provoked such anguished debate about the place of mankind in nature is remarkable. After all, in the Origin of the Species, he did not touch upon mankind's origins. But he touched a nerve: a theory that showed that nature can develop needing no guiding divine hand has obvious implications for the place of human beings in it.

It was not until the 1870s that Darwin actually addressed the topic of human origins - the Descent of Man. Here some of his cultural assumptions shone through - he clearly and unselfconsciously believed in the distinction between savage and civilized peoples, and the superiority of the latter over the former, but this was a cultural, not biological conviction, for he also argued for the common origins and biological unity of mankind, and made the prediction, increasingly borne out by contemporary evidence, that mankind's origins were in Africa. And Darwin did not coin the term survival of the fittest. His preferred term was natural selection but Wallace persuaded Darwin that this term sounded too much like attributing deliberate intention to a natural process and enjoined him to use Herbert Spencer's term instead.

The challenge of a biography detailing the middle and later years of Darwin's life - domesticated and sequestered as he was at Down House - is to convey the firestorm his ideas provoked. Browne's book succeeds in doing this marvelously. We also get a correction to the picture presented by some biographers of a sickly, reclusive Darwin, exaggerated by some of his previous chroniclers. Sick he was much of the time but he had a good deal of support from his wife and family and though he was not a public intellectual in the modern sense of the term, he cultivated links with influential persons whom he could enlist as allies shrewdly, and was canny about taking advantage of new technological mediums like portrait photography to promote his own `brand', as we might put in modern parlance.

In all this, Browne does not neglect the man, the gentleman scholar, a devoted husband and father (like Huxley, their naturalism did not rob them of being able to form deep human attachments), an unlikely revolutionary whose arsenal of ideas was generated in his greenhouse and gardens. And, no, contrary to some rumours, there was no deathbed renunciation of his theory (his wife, Emma, a believer, and who fretted over Darwin's salvation in the hereafter, would surely have recorded such a recantation).

This truly is a monumental biography. Browne spent 14 years of her life writing it. One senses a degree of identification the author has with Darwin and his own colossal struggles to compose his ideas. George Orwell once said that the act of writing was like pulling a demon out of one's mouth. Browne has not pulled out a demon out of hers with this book - she has produced a diamond of a book. One can only award this book five stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin's Evolution in Volume Two, 26 Sep 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
Volume Two of Browne's biography covers the eventful life he experienced after the publication of his seminal work "The Origin of Species" in 1859. As she points out in volume one, Darwin knew the effect his book would have on society and he was certainly correct - it changed human life's view of itself.

A great letter writer, Browne show how Darwin reacted to the responses, most critical were his fellow scientists, and the strong links between him and his supporters, all from his home in Down House. Other reviewers have given considerable detail, any more would be superfluous.

"'So you see, Mary, baby is descended from a hairy quadruped with pointed ears and a tail. We all are!" said Jack, in 'Punch', having been reading his wife passages from 'The Descent of Man'
'Speak for yourself, Jack! I'm not descended from anything of the kind, I beg to say,' retorted Mary. 'And baby takes after me, so there!'" (P 375)

Browne has comprehensively researched this book to build a fascinating picture of this very eventful time in scientific, human and Charles Darwin's life.
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