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Darwin, His Daughter, and Human Evolution Paperback – November 5, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this intimate portrait of the great naturalist as devoted family man, Keynes describes how Charles Darwin's "life and his science were all of a piece." The great-great-grandson of the scientist, Keynes uses published documents as well as family papers and artifacts to show how Darwin's thinking on evolution was influenced by his deep attachment to his wife and children. In particular, his anguish over his 10-year-old daughter Annie's death sharpened his conviction that the operation of natural laws had nothing to do with divine intervention or morality. Keynes, also a descendant of economist John Maynard Keynes, shows that much of Darwin's intellectual struggle in writing On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man arose from his efforts to understand the role of suffering and death in the natural order of the world. Early in his career, Darwin saw the indifference of natural law as an answer to the era's religious doubts about how a benevolent god could permit human misery; cruelty and pain, he argued, should not be seen as moral issues, but as inevitable outcomes of nature. After Annie's death, however, Darwin's views darkened, and in a private letter he railed against the "clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature!" Though Keynes doesn't break new ground about Darwin's life and work, he produces a moving tribute to a thinker who, despite intimate acquaintance with the pain inflicted by the "war of nature," could still marvel that, from this ruthless struggle, "endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." Photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)Forecast: General readers attracted by the book's warm, sentimental cover won't be disappointed by Keynes's equally accessible prose.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

When the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin inherited the writing case of Darwin's daughter Annie, who died at age ten, he discovered notes from his famous forbear that he used to reinvestigate the entire family.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition (November 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573229555
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573229555
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,264,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book touches only lightly on Charles Darwin's scientific work. If you are looking for a popular introduction to the basic mechanisms of evolution, try The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner or The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.
This book is primarily about Darwin's family life, his religious convictions, and how his scientific work affected both.
Nearly everyone in early 19th century Britain believed in a all-powerful, all-knowing God who monitored and regulated and judged everything that happened down to the smallest detail. (As in America's Bible Belt, where putting a Darwin Fish on your car is an invitation to vandalism, people who didn't accept the majority view tended to keep a low profile.) God had created all the species, exactly as they were, all at once about 6,000 years ago. Whatever you did, God was watching and might punish you in horrible ways for some small infraction. Most people accepted the idea that if your child came down with some hideous disease it was because God was punishing you for some transgression. (It didn't seem odd to anyone that they were worshiping a God who behaved like a vengeful psychopath.) However, if you followed the rules and did what you were supposed to do (if you were a woman, that meant endless pregnancies and utter, unthinking obedience to your husband, no matter what), after you died you got to go to Heaven where you would finally be happy.
Emma Darwin, wife of Charles, although her faith became strained, believed this. Charles, although in many ways a man of his time, is more complicated.
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Format: Paperback
My own ideas about Charles Darwin and his contributions to science were quite frankly limited to a week of study in high school natural sciences, long since forgotten. The ideas I had of him came from popular culture rather than my own investigations. Unsure whether to brand him a revolutionary atheist plotting to bring down Christianity or a zealous naturalist merely satisfying his own curiousity, I was eager to read what Keynes, a well pedigreed descendant of Darwin, had to say.
Privy to notes, letters, journals, and other information heretofor unseen, Keynes casts the familiar image of Charles Darwin in a new light. The man who emerges from this portrait is unexpected in many ways. A singularly devoted father and husband, Darwin's greatest joys came from ordinary family life. Romping with his large brood, noting details small and grand in their development and children, tenderly corresponding with his beloved wife Emma during their few seperations, Darwin was no cold and ruthless scientist out to cripple the faith of the believers. Keynes portrays him as a man brimming with affection, kindness, and love. Annie, the daughter alluded to in the book's title, remains mysterious in many ways; but what is entirely evident is that grief over her untimely death haunted Darwin until the end of his days.
Keynes so sensitively discusses Darwin's struggles with faith, God, and the human condition that he manages to obliterate the undeserved assumptions I carried with me to the biography. Darwin did not, as many assume, dismiss out of hand the notion of God. Quite to the contrary, he struggled with profound questions about God and lived out his life with a healthy respect for his wife and family's religious ideology even after he could no longer conscientiously participate in it.
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Format: Paperback
Having no real knowledge of Charles Darwin beyond myths and some sketchy memories of high school science, I was eager to read this book and finally become acquainted with the Charles Darwin, the man.
Randal Keynes did not disappoint. His access to a veritable treasure trove of family journals, letters, and records allows Keynes to develop a fully dimensional, complex individual who far exceeds the simple titles of "Evolutionist", "atheist," or any other ordinary label. Far from being a simple scientist (one of the myths dispelled in the book) or a once devout minister-in-training-turned-atheist (another myth), Darwin here is presented as a man of great warmth, devotion, and intellect.
Especially appealing to me was the emphasis Keynes places on Darwin's family life, as opposed to a lengthy discussion of his evolutionary theory. Darwin comes across as a fun, playful, adoring father whose very real grief over the death of his daughter may well have been a turning point in his thinking about God and the nature of the human condition.
Anyone who dismisses out of hand Darwin's theories as mere instruments by which to bring about the fall of Christianity must read this book. Darwin's struggles with the deepest philosophical issues, i.e. human suffering, the nature of evil, God, and redemption, are all discussed with sincerety even as they are backed up with evidence from Darwin's journals and letters. Those who insist on tagging Mr. Darwin with simple labels will be surprised by this revealing look at the real man.
The writing is clear, clever, and refrains from striking a tone either too sentimental or one inclined toward evolutionary apologetics. Definitely a worthwhile read.
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