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Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker Hardcover – 7 Sep 2017
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A book to treasure. A. N Wilson throws down the gauntlet on the very first line, 'Darwin was wrong' he begins. What follows is a sharply observed and wonderfully compelling analysis which evokes the Victorian titan brilliantly and challenges received wisdom. A work of scholarship that is hard to put down (Deborah Cadbury)
A lucid, elegantly written and thought-provoking social and intellectual history (Adrian Woolfson Evening Standard)
Hugely enjoyable . . . The picture of Darwin that emerges from this biography is a mixed one . . . Wilson unpicks these contradictions with a scientist's forensic skill and a novelist's imaginative touch (Robert Douglas Fairhurst Spectator)
As a historian trying to put Darwin in the context of his time, there is surely no better biographer than Wilson (Daisy Goodwin The Times)
As bold, audacious and entertaining as I knew it would be (The Spectator, Books of the Year)
A radical reappraisal of Charles Darwin from the bestselling author of Victoria: A LifeSee all Product description
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* To associate Darwin with Hitler's policies is at best misguided and at worst intellectually dishonest: Darwin's scientific ideas have little to do with the political ideas of Social Darwinism, and the deranged policies of Nazism drew from distortions of the works relating to Norse mythology, the Bible and a host of other sources.
*To suggest Darwin did not credit others who thought on evolution before him is not borne out by the fact that he lists more than 38 who did just that, in the Origin of Species itself.
*To assert that there are no transitional fossils is not supported by the fact that there are literally millions of transitional fossils.
*To suggest that genetics does not support Darwinian natural selection is contrary to the view held by every biologist in the world that genetics fully reinforces natural selection.
The only valid criticism I can find herein of Darwin is that he might have been flatulent, which can be attributed to a serious disease that he picked up on his travels on the Beagle.
And so on. I can't for the life of me work out how a serious writer could draw these conclusions about someone who has been studied for more than a century, on a subject that millions of people have spent millions of hours and millions of £££ testing. I can only conclude that AN Wilson is not a serious man.
The pagination is excellent. I like the picture of the bat on the back cover.
Dr. Adam Rutherford
I was sent this volume for my views prior to publication and was dismayed at the catalogue of errors and misreadings it contains. I think it fair to share them on the book's Amazon page in case other readers are in danger of being misled.
The author provides an absurd rendition of Darwin’s theory, and then proceeds to confidently assert that Darwin was wrong.
Here is an example: “the stronger and the better fitted to survive, the greater a species’ chance of survival” (p. 248) This error is repeated many times in the book. But Darwin’s theory is about individuals surviving (or not), not whole species. Another: Darwin had to show that “natural selection occurred by sexual means”. This is so ignorant it isn’t even wrong.
The book is full of inexcusable, sloppy errors. These show both a staggering ignorance of the topic and lack of competent research rigour.
Wilson writes (twice) of an “ornithological society of London” where Darwin sent specimens. This was in fact the Zoological Society of London. For a writer on Darwin and his context to not know well the ZSL shows breathtaking ignorance.
Equally breathtaking ignorance is shown of the large scholarly literature on Darwin. Wilson repeats the 1960s claim of anti-Darwin conspiracy theorist Loren Eiseley that the first 50 pages of Darwin’s first evolution notebook were suspiciously missing. They aren’t. They were located and published by 1967. How could anyone even vaguely competent to write a book on Darwin know so little of the literature on him?
Wilson even describes and ridicules a “Darwinian” scenario with the ancestors of giraffes “straining their muscles in order to elongate their necks”. What!? Even the most casual research would show that this is Lamarckism, not Darwinism. But for Wilson, Darwin’s theory was the same as Lamarck’s and Vestiges.
Another egregious blunder is made regarding a 1 June 1858 meeting of the Linnean Society which was supposedly cancelled because of the former president’s death on the 10th!? (p. 235) How could a meeting be cancelled in honour of someone who died 9 days later??
(In my book on Wallace and Darwin, Dispelling the darkness (2013), the correct dates can be found: “The last meeting of the 1858 season was 17 June. However the former president of the society, the Scottish botanist Robert Brown, had died aged eighty-four the week before”)
Wilson claims that George Richmond made only pencil sketch portraits of Darwin and Emma after their wedding. Wrong. Richmond painted both in watercolour. These paintings are reproduced in countless books on Darwin. How could anyone get such things wrong? (A pencil sketch study for Darwin’s portrait was found in the cellars of Botany School Cambridge in 1929.)
Wilson claims: “Darwin believed that his own theory…made it impossible to believe in the Bible.” (p. 238) This is simply made up by Wilson. Darwin thought no such thing. The majority of those who accepted Darwin’s theory in the early decades were Christians.
The discussion of Darwin’s book Descent of Man never even bothers to cover the theory of sexual selection, which makes up the majority of Darwin’s book. Wilson’s coverage of Expression of Emotions is equally bonkers.
The other main theme of the book is to attack Darwin’s character, honesty, motives and competence. Here again the portrait painted by Wilson bears almost no resemblance to the real Darwin. According to Wilson, Darwin’s illness was just “psychosomatic whims” used as “excuses” to get out of doing things. (e.g. p. 271) Wilson also invents and spends a lot of time condemning Darwin’s supposed “driving ambition to become the English Humboldt” with a “towering ambition” “to be a universal genius”. Wilson imagines he sees a “personal deviousness” in Darwin and damns his “inability to come clean about…his debts to previous scientists” (p. 239) Darwin’s method of argumentation was “slithery” and he only “waved” away the big difficulties for his theory. (p. 253) Nonsense. On the contrary, even Darwin’s strongest critics admired how he laid out all the likely objections to his theory. Tired old creationist fantasies are also carted out, such as Darwin being responsible for Hitler and the Nazis.
It’s puzzling how anyone could get Darwin and his science so completely wrong. The other puzzle is how someone so unqualified to write about Darwin and the science of evolution today could dare to make such brazenly overconfident claims sweeping away generations of science and scholarship. This is “towering ambition” indeed.
However even as a layman to this subject, I am flabbergasted that someone wrote this .....drivel. I am even more astounded that someone pushed this forward for sale to the public as a factual book.
The 'facts' he states are checkable on google and found to be wrong. This isn't just one or two, it's almost all of them. I have read child's homework on imaginary situations that were more believable.
Do not buy this book if you have any interest in reading the truth
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