Darwin: A Life in Science by John Gribbin and Michael White
|Darwin: A Life in Science by John Gribbin and Michael White|
|Reviewer: Ruth Price|
|Summary: A straightforward account of Darwin's life, happily free from psychological speculation. It benefits from providing summaries of the scientific theories that influenced Darwin's work, making it ideal for the reader with a casual interest in science. An excellent companion to Darwin's On the Origin of the Species.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: February 2009|
|Publisher: Pocket Books Ltd|
This straightforward and likeable biography of Charles Darwin charts the evolution of his theories of evolution, while providing solid insights into the man in the context of his upbringing, education and family life. Importantly, it makes you want to read On the Origin of the Species, acting as a primer for the ideas introduced in that famous volume.
Darwin: A Life in Science is pitched beautifully for the reader of popular science, yet gives plenty of signposts enabling future study. It also gives a very believable picture of Darwin, based on convincing evidence and without falling into florid psychological speculation.
Darwin was not the only scientist developing theories of evolution, and Gribbin and White touch on Darwin's contemporaries, competition from whom may have eventually pushed the meticulous Darwin into publishing Origin. I found the authors' notion that much of his ill-health was rooted in an immune system weakened by the stress of anticipating the reaction of the Christian world to theories that were seen as challenging the word of God illuminating. His wife Emma, feared for his mortal soul – her concerns caused him much heartache when it came to publishing his theories. It's useful to have a reminder of how controversial those views were at the time – and indeed reflect on the contemporary proponents of creationism and intelligent design.
As a non-scientist, I felt nicely hand-held by Gribbin and White as they walked me through the theories of Darwin and other scientists, theologians and philosophers, and as mentioned above, it really made me want to read Darwin's Origin, which I have only ever read in extract (fortunately there is a great new edition of the recommended first edition of Origin mentioned in further reading below). I also appreciated the detailed footnotes and index. I admit to finding certain sections more absorbing than others due to my non-scientific brain, but I do think this book would be a great family reference for anyone wanting both an overview of evolutionary theories, while at the same time seeking insights on Darwin's life in digestible biographical form.
Thanks to Pocket Books, the publisher, for kindly sending Darwin: A Life in Science to Bookbag.
Further reading: Inevitably, with the bicentenary of Charles Darwin's birth in 2009, there is no shortage of books being published. The starting point has to be On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition by Charles Darwin and David Quammen (Author and Editor), which presents Charles Darwin's masterwork in a sumptuous coffee-table edition which makes a valuable reference. Darwin's Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins by Adrian Desmond and James Moore is a detailed account of the percolation of Charles Darwin's ideas; perhaps too detailed for casual readers, who would be better served by starting with Darwin: A Life In Science.
Darwin: A Life in Science by John Gribbin and Michael White is in the List Of Books To Celebrate Charles Darwin's 200th Anniversary.
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