Thursday, August 02, 2007

Darwin's Origin of the Species by Janet Browne

Charles Darwin was a quiet, humble man, unlikely to stir up trouble. Still his key work, a book that he issued in seven editions, shook the foundations of society, making some doubt their religious convictions, letting others espouse new theories of science, anthropology, and sociology. In Darwin's Origin of the Species: A Biography, Janet Browne tells the story of the author, the writing of his book, its initial reception, and its legacy.

Is this a biography of the author or of the book? I'd say it is mostly a story of the book. While the initial chapters tell about Darwin's childhood when he read his grandfather's books on natural selection and about his five years as science officer on the Beagle, it is mostly about getting the book written and the reaction to it.

I particularly liked reading about how Darwin maintained friends and colleagues worldwide from his refuge in rural England. He wrote over 500 letters per year at a point when the postal service was more efficient and quicker than ever before. His book was published at a time when the book trade was expanding and review journals were proliferating. The result was a well marketed science book read by the public at large. Some scientists and religious leaders objected immediately, but they were not as well organized as Darwin's supporters. The quiet biologist became a best selling author.

Browne suggests that there is more opposition to the ideas in Darwin's book now than ever before, so this is a good time to revisit the work. This title from the Books That Changed the World series is a good addition to school and public libraries.

Browne, Janet. Darwin's Origin of the Species: A Biography. Atlantic Monthly, 2006. ISBN 9780871139535

1 comment:

Richard Carter, FCD (Darwin nerd) said...

There were only six editions of Origin of Species.

(I've just finished the Browne book too - great stuff!)