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Darwin: Portrait of a Genius Hardcover – October 11, 2012
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—Wall Street Journal
“Excellent and courageous.”
—Michael Flannery, author of Alfred Russel Wallace
“This little sketch reminds us why Darwin’s theory of natural selection endures and continues to provoke controversy.”
“This is a first-rate biography, one that brings Darwin and his ideas into brilliant focus.”
—History Book Club
Top Customer Reviews
Darwin may have been the world's first full-time scientist. Born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln, Darwin knew only wealth and comfort from his good fortune with family lines into lucrative pottery and medicine. He was well-educated, well-travelled, and well-married. As a young man, he was deemed the best choice for a vast scientific adventure, due as much to his family and up-bringing as scientific knowledge. He did make the most of the experience, hoarding away millions of samples and learning the sharp-elbowed approach to beating scientific rivals to the lecture circuit.
We hear from Johnson on Darwin's many weaknesses. Perhaps the most egregious one was his ineptitude and lack of interest in mathematics which kept him from moving his nascent theory forward. This was left to others, especially Mendel who it appears never crossed paths with Darwin although they were contemporaries. We also learn about Darwin's lack of confidence, limited work hours, unwillingness to spend his available funds on supplemental research, and difficult relationships with some peers and competitors.
Where this book really shines is when Johnson puts the Darwin story into the bigger picture.Read more ›
Johnson explains that Charles Lyell the geologist had just published a book showing that the earth must be millions of years old. For persons who believed incorrectly that the Bible teaches the earth is only six thousand years old, this evidence destroyed the faith of many. Johnson notes on page 31 this information was more significant in producing disbelief than anything Darwin wrote.
After returning from the Beagle, he read Malthus. This 'had a huge emotional impact'. Malthus law that population always outstrips food,(arithmetical vs geometrical), struck Darwin as the truth, (we now know Malthus was wrong). This erroneous idea was fundamental to Darwin's future writing.
On page 72 Johnson says that Tennyson in his poem, In Memoriam of 1851, 'glorified and almost sanctified evolution'. This is before Darwin's book. The idea of evolution was already accepted by many.
Page 83 "Origin, then, was a cleverly written, superbly presented, and even a cunningly judged book, and quite apart from its veracity deserved to have an enormous impact and sell widely. But it was, and is, open to one objection. This springs from the original excitement and emotion in which Darwin conceived his theory of natural selection. . . His emotions convinced him that the horror scenario was the way nature operated, and he imparted this feeling to his book. The result, in the long term was to have malign even catastrophic consequences.Read more ›
Johnson notes that Darwin was a "machine for accumulating countless facts." For a 20th century parallel, interested readers might enjoy "A Congenial Fellowship: A Botanical Correspondence Between Charles C. Deam and Floyd A. Swink 1946-1951." It is the incredibly detailed and technical correspondence of two botanists in search of botanical truth. I should note that I knew Mr. Swink.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Enjoyed this book very much. The cover is beautiful…I know, not important, but it's beautiful none the less. This lovely book snapshot of Darwin, with NO FILLER. Read morePublished 11 days ago by kitty kat
DARWIN: PORTRAIT OF A GENIUS by Paul Johnson, Penguin books, 2013, 164 pages. Read morePublished 6 months ago by F. Kline
A quick read that helps define something we all know, but are under-informed on.... Great book !Published 6 months ago by Rxbow
Review of ‘Darwin: portrait of a genius’ by Paul Johnson.
CITATION: Johnson, P. (2012). Darwin: portrait of a genius. Read more
Very worrhwhile read. Provides context and deepens our understanding of the factors in Darwins background, marriage and culture that led to when and how he played blushed his... Read morePublished 11 months ago by John Rush M.D
In his ostensible biography of Darwin, Mr. Johnson paints an unflattering self-portrait, his arrogance, his lack of intellectual discipline, his biases, his inability to understand... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Minnesota Loves Brazil
My son was very disappointed, although my husband enjoyed itPublished 16 months ago by frequent buyer
This book should be read by everyone but especially anyone who has religious conflicts with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. You need not be conflicted. Read morePublished 18 months ago by Kenneth D. Willis
Great book on Darwin a efficient account of the man, his life, and the background to his book that is still impacting the world, I am not an evolutionist, but wanted to know more... Read morePublished 21 months ago by Carl R. Schwanbeck