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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best biography on Darwin
Janet Browne's biography of Charles Darwin is the best I've read thus far. Her style is limpid and concise, and she succeeds wonderfully in taking us back to the intelectual and social atmosphere of 19th century England. Most importantly, she provides a detailed account of the dynamics on both sides of Darwin's family, and at the end we can understand many of the...
Published on 24 Aug 1998

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1 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It is not her fault
Probably this book (including also the second volume) is as good as a biography of Darwin might ever get. Brown has done a wonderful job, and the mass of details she offers is overwhelming. But the more I read the more I felt disappointed. You know, Darwin was - and now we know it thanks to Browne's research in all the detail we could ever wish for - a great bore and...
Published on 26 April 2007 by 1001 Pages


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best biography on Darwin, 24 Aug 1998
By A Customer
Janet Browne's biography of Charles Darwin is the best I've read thus far. Her style is limpid and concise, and she succeeds wonderfully in taking us back to the intelectual and social atmosphere of 19th century England. Most importantly, she provides a detailed account of the dynamics on both sides of Darwin's family, and at the end we can understand many of the driving forces behind Darwin's success. Browne's book is definitively not hagiographic; rather, it tries to put Darwin in a definite context, making it clear that he benefited from many people around him. I cannot wait for the second part of her biography!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book, 9 May 2006
By 
S. Maurer (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1 (Paperback)
After reading Origin of Species and then the Voyage of the Beagle I was eager to learn more about the "father" of evolution and I could not have hoped for a more thorough biography.

The author has clearly done a huge amount of research to provide this fascinating portrait Darwin. Providing backgrounds of his immediate ancestors, then his childhood leading through to adulthood and his own family. Allowing you to understand how and why his line of thinking led him to write the Origin of Species.

It's well written and absorbing. I often forgot I was on the tube whilst engrossed.

When I got to the end I immediately went hunting for the second instalment.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing Left Unsaid, 12 Sep 2009
By 
Kim Hatton "Kim Hatton" (Nottingham) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1 (Paperback)
'Voyaging' and 'The Power of Place' appear as two separate volumes but constitute parts 1 and 2 of Janet Browne's majestic biography of Darwin.They were recommended to me - in this bicentennial anniversary year - as the best book - in the sense of best researched, argued and expressed - available in the field and I can't disagree with this assessment . However I did find assimilating 1200 pages difficult.

The author handles a huge cast of characters - including Darwin's family and friends together with scientists, intellectuals and people of influence - and explains and elucidates the social conditions and conventions from Darwin's Regency roots to archetypical Victorian maturity. Simultaneously she traces the history of Darwin's scientific thought from his early days as a beetle collector through his time as naturalist on the Beagle to his last years observing earthworms. She follows the genesis of his doubts on the immutability of species through the development of his theory of their source (in variability and selection) and his hesitations to publish his work when its implications became clear.

While I can't for a moment fault this it was hard to digest so much detailed material. I found myself comparing it with Desmond & Moore's 1992 biography which - although it has been challenged on the accuracy of some conclusions - was an easier read. Janet Browne has unquestionably written the definitive Darwin biography but if at any time she saw fit to write a shortened or 'student's' version it could reach a wider audience and have a more popular appeal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars **** Beautiful ****, 14 Oct 2009
By 
Douglas Jamieson (Saudi Arabia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1 (Paperback)
Stunning two volume biography. I've read it twice now. Once for the content and once for the sheer pleasure of it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Amazing Journey, 26 Jan 2013
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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So what sort of man was Darwin? He was not born in 1809 to be a revolutionary. Although the grandson of bon vivant and freethinker Erasmus Darwin, and broadly Whiggish in his persuasion, there is no presage from Darwin's early intellectual development of the godless implications of his theory of evolution. His forefather aside, and his earlier, abortive, education as a medical student at Edinburgh, where he would have been exposed to heretical anti-Anglican establishment thinking, nothing in early life seemed to weaken the foundations of his cultural Anglicanism.

His aimless years as a student and young man were transformed by his five-year voyage on HMS Beagle, from 1831 to 1836, of which the greater part of his years overseas was spent on dry land, much of it in South America. This confirmed his calling as a naturalist but not as an atheist. If not a literal believer of the biblical account of creation (by no means alone among his peers in thinking this) he was culturally Anglican, a deist in a watery sense, and sympathetic to the ideological aims of evangelicals and missionaries abroad. He publicly defended the activities of missionary societies in Tahiti and New Zealand, based on his encounters with their work when visiting these places on his voyage. His disillusionment with Christianity was to come later, with the corrosive effects of the implications of his research and the death of a beloved daughter Anne in 1851.

After his return to England in 1836, the next 20 years were spent in assiduously collecting artifacts and evidence, reading and corresponding with other scientists. It was in this time that the seeds for his theory of evolution germinated. In his studies of Galapagos finches, he came to realize that species were not immutable. He grasped that if species reproduced by cloning, rather than sexual reproduction, that variation would never arise. But because of sexual reproduction, the species are not immutable. One generation is not a literal clone of its parents. This was the first insight. The second was the influence of Malthus, a political economist. Malthus is best known for his pessimistic assessments of the ability of food supply to keep up with expanding population. Darwin extrapolated this to nature: in the natural world, more come to be born than can be fed. In nature, life is fierce struggle of all against all. Any trait that confers on an individual organism, plant and animal, an advantage in this struggle improves its chances of success in leaving descendants.

Darwin's term for this was not survival of the fittest (not a phrase he invented) but natural selection, an impersonal force that operated in nature in the same way gravity operates on planets. Note that Darwin at this point in his thinking did not apply any of his insights to human origins or conduct. His focus was on the natural world - on the origin of the species, as his infamous book was later to be called. Nor was natural selection a theory about the survival of groups. It was, and is, a theory about the effects of favourable variations on individuals, not groups.

Darwin then was a voyager. He spent five years on HMS Beagle and then nearly another quarter of a century at Down House, Kent, from where he continued his voyage of intellectual discovery, and from where he eventually arrived at his theory of evolution. It was a voyage, as a young man, that he almost certainly never anticipated making. Still less would he have guessed where his interest in natural history was to take him. He was not, as previously observed, a natural born revolutionary and he was frequently aghast at the implications of his theory as he amassed the evidence in support for it.

It a voyage he made alone. He was not quite the sickly recluse of Down House. He had his family and his social networks that opened doors for him and were his eyes and ears to the world beyond Down House and he managed these networks shrewdly. The image of the detached Olympian scientist is not quite right. He could not have done it without the networks of support that a man of his class could count upon. But having said that, he put the hours in, with a prodigious capacity for hard work and graft. His personal qualities of tenacity and intellectual resilience were essential prerequisites for him to see it through.

This is a superb biography of Charles Darwin. It is very well written, comprehensive and gives and gives a vivid sense of the life and times of the great man. Using the phrase `great man' should not suggest that this is hagiography - the author takes engaged but impartial view of her subject. What we get is a picture of a man, his ideas, and how he formed his ideas. I think that this is the best biography of Darwin out there. The second volume, I should say, is even better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, 5 Jun 2011
This review is from: Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1 (Paperback)
I haven't finished the book yet but I have already put the 2nd volume on my wish list. I just can't put the book down it is so well written, I am fascinated by Darwin and his whole life and this makes things so clear. I can't help but read parts out to my husband as I want to share it. I have a double interest as I live in Shrewsbury and spent my university years in Edinburgh, but even without this extra interest this book must be on everyones to read list.
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, waiting for the next volume, 4 July 1999
By A Customer
I read this book several years ago, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Janet, if you are listening, I am very much looking forward to the next volume. I know it can't be easy, but stick in there!
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1 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It is not her fault, 26 April 2007
This review is from: Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1 (Paperback)
Probably this book (including also the second volume) is as good as a biography of Darwin might ever get. Brown has done a wonderful job, and the mass of details she offers is overwhelming. But the more I read the more I felt disappointed. You know, Darwin was - and now we know it thanks to Browne's research in all the detail we could ever wish for - a great bore and quite obviously a little-inspiring, conventionally-minded upper-class scholar with absolutely no remotely interesting sides to his personality at all! I guess that after some minutes I would run out of arguments if I were ever to meet him! The account of his youth: dreadful, uneventful, petty! His early university life: boring, uneventful, petty! His trip on the Beagle and his forays on South American soil: Boring, boring, as Darwin obviously had the gift of rendering interesting things in the most insignificant manner! And Brown faithfully lists all the details on and on ... It is not her fault, however, for she does only justice to her subject. True, Darwin's "Origin of Species" changed the world, and there is little I believe in so firmly as in biological evolution. But don't get interested in the man, because genius dwells elsewhere; it simply wasn't Darwin's middle name, and if it was he hid it to the end. The only thing worthy of a man of Darwin's stature I found his strong rejection of slavery, but even this was, at his time, mainstream opinion in British society (which doesn't invalidate this attitude, of course). Now, summing up, here is the curious situation I ran into with this review: For the efforts of Browne, I would like to award five stars; alas, for the interest I could develop in Darwin's most boring life (and personality, as it seems!) one star seems more than abundant ... so I give three stars, in order to preserve some sense of fairness. Dear Janet Browne: Don't waste again your talent on people like Darwin!
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Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1
Charles Darwin. Voyaging (Volume 1): Voyaging Vol 1 by Janet Browne (Paperback - 7 Aug 2003)
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