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Hardcover Darwin's Origin of the Species: A Biography Book

ISBN: 0871139537

ISBN13: 9780871139535

Darwin's Origin of the Species: A Biography

(Part of the Books That Shook the World Series and Books That Changed the World Series)

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Format: Hardcover

Condition: Very Good*

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Book Overview

Charles Darwin's foremost biographer, Janet Browne, delivers a vivid and accessible introduction to the book that permanently altered our understanding of what it is to be human. A sensation on its publication in 1859, The Origin of the Species profoundly shocked Victorian readers by calling into question the belief in a Creator with its description of evolution through natural selection. And Darwin's seminal work is nearly as controversial today...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

This came with mold on it. I think it got wet in the mail.

This came with mold on it. I think it got wet in the mail.

Excellent introduction to Charles Darwin

Janet Browne's Darwin's Origin of Species is an unusual Darwin biography in that it is as much about the the Origin of Species and its impact as it is about the author himself. Browne is out to convince the reader that the creation and publication of the Origin is the tale of the modern world coming into existence. A lofty goal, indeed, but Browne pulls it off wonderfully, crafting a thorough and concise account of the history of the ideas behind Darwin's seminal work while maintaining a neutral yet impassioned voice. Browne's book is very much the story of Darwin's world and the Origin's role in leading it into modernization. 19th century English society was unabashedly Victorian and increasingly industrialized. This environment of transition was ripe for the introduction of Darwin's ideas, as both shared the mantras of specialization, diversification, and improvement. Religion, while a crucial pillar of Darwin's society at the time, was being chipped away by an emerging contingent of philosophers questioning the validity of the Old Testament and creationism. The Origin-centric approach to this particular Darwin biography gives the book a great amount of focus. Details in Darwin's early life that seem cobbled together in other Darwin biographies come together in fascinating ways when discussed in context of the Origin, effectively showing how Darwin's life influenced the creation of the Origin. The book begins by retracing Darwin's upbringing as part of the financially secure intelligentsia of Britain before moving on to Darwin's formative years at Cambridge. During that time he cultivated his love for geology and encountered the pervasive influence of theology, two influences that repeatedly show up in the Origin. Similarly, Browne elaborates on the voyage on the Beagle's merits as a character-building experience, allowing Darwin to develop the independence and his observation skills as a naturalist later needed to flesh out the nuances of the Origin. This focus extends to the middle chapters of the book, where Browne summarizes the literature regarding the development, publication, and argument of the Origin. She hits all of the main points of contention, exploring the influence of Paley and Malthus while offering commentary on Darwin's delay and the controversy regarding Alfred Wallace Russell. Her systematic reduction of the argument within the Origin is nicely done as well, breaking it down into its core principles of excessive numbers of very different offspring, the mechanism of natural selection, and the principle of divergence as well as addressing many of the common controversies surrounding the book like the rejection of the church and the lack of man's special status. Browne's book is also notable for its distillation of the legacy of the Origin, offering a nicely condensed version of the key events that led Darwinism out of obscurity in the 20th century. During the late 19th and early 20th century Darwin's idea

Another Treasure from Janet Browne

When it comes to Darwin and Darwin-related issues, I have found Janet Browne's works to be outstanding contributions. Her two volume biography of Darwin is commanding in its mastery of the pertinent materials; a legacy in part of her many years working on the Darwin Correspondence project. For those of us on this side of the Atlantic, the good news is that she was recently appointed Professor of the History of Science at Harvard, leaving her long-time perch at the Wellcome Institute in London. In addition to being definitive, her books and articles are just a pleasure to read--here is Darwin at the height of his powers doing significant work and leading a happy and productive upper-class Victorian scientific life. This is one out of a series of short books entitled "Books That Changed the World." It is yet another example of the recent trend toward concise volumes (this one runs 174 pages including index) that, despite their brevity, cram in a tremendous amount of useful information. After a brief introduction, the first two chapters are mini-biographies of Darwin prior to publication of the "Origin." As always, Browne is interested on the books and ideas (Lyell, Malthus, etc.) that shaped Darwin's own perspective. Since Browne knows more about Darwin than anyone else, these brief chapters are rich indeed in insight and perception--small gems. Next, Browne moves on to the actual publication of the "Origin" and the Victorian intellectual framework into which it was released. The controversy the book unleashed is covered in the next chapter, perhaps the longest and surely the most concentrated in the book. If anything, too much information is included here, especially for readers new to Darwin and Victorian science, and it is covered rather quickly. The final chapter deals with developments occurring from Darwin's death up until virtually the present, particularly in genetics and other scientific developments ultimately upholding Darwin's thesis. The book includes brief notes and a short bibliography, as well as a fine index. "Origin of Species" did indeed "change the world" and this fine introduction hopefully will facilitate greater and wider understanding of Darwin's enormous contribution to science and our understanding of the world we inhabit.

Darwin's Origin of Species, a biography

I got the gist of Darwin's theories in a non-technical manner, while the story of his life made it seem a very personal, and interesting story. I also enjoyed the historical context. This was an easy and facinating read!

You can ask for little more in so little space

Simple me, I enjoyed the book tremendously. I was impressed by the author's ability to cover so much territory in so little space (the book is, in the end, a biography of both Darwin and Darwinism). Even condensed, it reads well. The last chapter, on the fate of Darwinism after his death, did seem a little rushed, but it was all so new to me that I was happy to have it, rather than nothing at all. This is, after all, an introductory book, and after you have read it, you can look elsewhere for something more substantial. You should judge a book by what it sets out to do, not by what you would do if you were the author.
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