A very detailed account of Huxley’s life from birth up until 1875 when he was elected President of the Royal Institute.
I found this book dense on the whole and at times a bit of a trudge. It is clearly the produce of a first class intellect, and I yearn for intelligently written books, but I felt that Desmond could have made Huxley more immediately accessible to his readers, and thereby he would have emulated the man himself in his desire to make science accessible to the common man, which he achieved via his pamphlets and Sunday evening lectures. I believe that Desmond could have done this without having to dumb Huxley down.
In reading this biography I felt at times as if I was an interloper to a group of the in-crowd, but because I did not have prior knowledge of their knowledge or experience I was doomed to be forever left out in the cold. By this I mean that I think Desmond has assumed that his readers will have a certain level of prior knowledge of the kind of world in which Huxley and his peers lived in, particularly the shifting sands of power between the establishment, for which read the church and the clergy, and the burgeoning sciences of which Huxley and his crew were at the helm of putting on the map. One of Huxley’s greatest achievements was as I say, bringing science to the masses, including his creation of the South London College.
This book does convey that Huxley’s achievements were remarkable, all the more so considering he was largely self-taught. He had a mind that was never at rest, always enquiring, sufficient energy as his disposal to hold down various posts and positions at once, and a dogged determination to keep knocking on doors until they opened. On top of this he managed somehow to be a family man. In short there is much to admire.
Of course, if he is remembered at all, it is for being Darwin’s ‘bulldog’. Huxley was slow to accept Darwin’s theory of natural selection, believing at first that evidence of human occupation would be found in Silurian deposits, but once on board he became Darwin’s outspoken, (if not to say radical) and courageous mouthpiece. Whilst Darwin merely gave a mild hint at the end of Natural Selection that his theory could be applied to man, Huxley it was who did just that and in so doing put forward the theory that man had evolved from apes. Indeed he illustrated the possible transition in his now iconic image. Everybody knows of this image, but few, I wager, know that it was Huxley that drew it in the first place.
History has cast Huxley well and truly in Darwin’s shadow whereas it is probably the case that without Huxley, Darwin’s theory would have taken longer to reach centre stage. He deserves greater recognition and Desmond details all of the reasons why.
Maybe I didn't read the description carefully enough, or maybe it didn't say, but this is part 2 of a 2-part biography. I haven't read it yet, as I'd much rather start at the beginning. So make sure you buy the 1st book first, or find a version with the whole thing in one book.