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Though Darwin biographers note the importance of Down House, the quiet Kent estate where Darwin did his heaviest thinking and writing, his greenhouse and gardening experiments are usually dismissed as scientist's play, distractions from his real work. Author and British National History Museum paleobiologist Boulter (Extinction: Evolution and the End of Man) brings the garden front and center to demonstrate Darwin's patient empiricism and private formulation of questions that still puzzle biologists today. Part one is a charming but unfocused hodgepodge, describing family life at Down House: descriptions of children's games, Darwin's walks with wife Emma, chats with pigeon fanciers and dinner parties with 19th century luminaries like Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker. Part two is an engaging overview of evolutionary biology since Darwin. Darwin's unpublished research reveals an even more prescient thinker than most realize, puzzling over issues of animal and plant distribution that would only make sense with the 20th century discovery of plate tectonics, and surmising the complexity of the heredity mechanism (gene expression, still little understood). Though jarringly structured, Boulter's account reveals the man of his time as well as the scientific thinker far ahead of it.
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