For anyone with an interest in natural history, the Victorian era and the enigma of Darwin this book cannot fail to please. Revealed within its more than 600 pages of narrative (the rest of the book is index / bibliography) is the dramatic and fascinating story of how evolution travelled from heresy to accepted wisdom in the space of a single generation. Far from being a matter of purely scientific interest, evolution and natural selection went to the very heart of a country riven with conflict over the place of man in the scheme of things. The ruling classes and the wealthy clergy could not allow the idea of evolution to take hold - to accept that we are all descendants of apes is to accept that there is no fundamental difference between men of different classes and no overriding need for the Established Church (a mere invention of man). Thus we see that Darwin was torn throughout his life between loyalty to his class (landed gentry) and loyalty to his science. Other men went to prison for denying the truths of Christianity but Darwin was no martyr. His approach was rather one of stealth - gradually pursuing his research and publishing only when the time was right, often many years after his discoveries were made. A weak man physically we see a man of inner strength and possessing a determination to see the truth prevail. From first to last this book is a masterpiece of its genre.
If you have even a passing interest in Darwin or the Victorian age this book will thrill you. It is very long and detailed but incredibly well-written and accessible. At times it is more like reading a gripping novel than a historical biography. Fully deserving of all the awards and accolades it received, it really places Darwin in his historical context and is as good a biography as I have ever read.
Charles Darwin's life was fascinating. It is brilliantly described in this book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore - essential reading for anyone with an interest in Darwin. It makes gripping reading, too, for any reader who wants to learn about Darwin.
Darwin by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Michael Joseph, London, 1991, 832 ff
By Howard Jones
I can add little to the detailed reviews of this book already published except to say that I agree that it is an exemplary biography of one of the great men of science. There are several short, succinct biographies of this great biologist by Jonathan Howard (Oxford), Wilma George (Fontana) and Mark Ridley (Granta), and books dealing specifically with Darwin's theology by Philip Kitcher (Oxford) and Nick Spencer (SPCK), especially in relation to Intelligent Design. But Desmond and Moore have given us a comprehensive, yet highly readable, account of Darwin's life and work, with all due credit given to Alfred Russel Wallace and his part in the development of the story of evolution. This book is an authoritative work and highly recommended. There is at the end a comprehensive Notes section, an extensive Bibliography, and a detailed Index.
I first read this book some ten years ago. It remains one of my very favourite biographies. As well as providing an excellent insight into the work of Darwin, it sets his life in the political and social context in which he lived. It is impressive that two authors have created a book which is such a compelling and enjoyable read.
I can' think of a biography that I have enjoyed more or been more impressed by. (1) It is extremely well-written, which makes it a very easy read. It is a wonderful story as much as anything else. (2) The book sets Darwin's life very nicely context - religious, scientific, political - and does so without labouring the point, providing just a nice amount of detail. (3) The theory of evolution is, of course, intrinsically interesting and important. I got it on kindle and am considering getting the hard copy as well, just because it's one of those books that I would like to have on my shelves, and would like to hold onto. I will definitely be reading it again.
This book really is a masterly account of the great man. With huge detail and accuracy it charts his privileged and wealthy background and upbringing, through to his voyage on the Beagle and the development of his evolutionary theories and numerous other research works, as well as detail of his family life. The authors' hugely knowledgeable backgrounds have been ably assisted by the fact that Darwin kept prodigious notes and sent and received vast amounts of letters (14,500 of which still exist). Darwin's story goes hand in hand with the politics and religious change happening at that time, and there is much detail here too. In fact it is a major thread of the story how he delayed going public with his theories, and when he did, the effect they had on the world as well as his own personal life and health. Darwin was fully aware of the impact his ideas would have - in Victorian times religion, science, politics and economics were all closely interwoven, and he knew he would have a devastating effect on the status quo - in many ways potentially to the detriment to those close to him. He was never comfortable with this burden, but always had a steely confidence in his theories and an awareness of the importance his work would have in the advancement of the scientific understanding of the world. The book makes liberal use of quotes, and these inspire confidence in the accuracy and thoroughness of the coverage. A highly recommended read and a superb historical account.
Charles Darwin goes on a 5 year voyage and though no different as a man in any way to you or I, thinks and evolves an idea that destroys all previous origin stories before it, especially "creationism", that funny idea that some unknown thing decided to create everything. My it totally destroys creationism and the repercussions on society are huge.
Desmond's book is detailed (enough for me) but fluid in approach. I found it easy to read, the sure sign of a master craftsman at work. It was good to get under the skin of Darwin as a young man with all the uncertainty lying before him. But it brings out the power of networks because I am not sure Darwin would have published Origin of Species if it wasn't for the letter from Wallace, but mostly his friends e.g. Hooker and of course the firebrand Huxley.
Takes the reader on a fascinating journey through Darwin's life, highlighting the dilemmas he faced as he amassed facts and theories which would overturn the prevailing world views of the Anglican Church and the Victorian middle classes. Based on the mass of documents left by Darwin and his contemporaries, it also provides fascinating social and historical insights into Victorian Britain.