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Darwin's Origin of Species: Books That Changed the World Paperback – February 18, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. It may seem peculiar to write a biography of a book, but Darwin's Origin of Species is certainly a worthy subject. A foremost Darwin biographer, Browne takes a straightforward approach to the life and times of this famous tome, beginning with Darwin's early years and journey around the world. She then explains how he developed his theory of evolution (a word that doesn't appear in the first edition) during his years as a country scientist. Darwin included an unusual chapter on things he couldn't yet explain with his theory. On publication, the book gained instant celebrity around the globe—even Queen Victoria took notice of it, though she mused that the book would be too difficult for her to understand. In her discussion of the storm the book aroused, Browne makes the fascinating point that Darwin highly respected his American friend Asa Gray, whose views were very similar to those of today's advocates of intelligent design. Browne's final chapter on the book's legacy isn't comprehensive, but it's a good summary of subsequent modifications to Darwin's theory. This excellent introduction is highly recommended for all readers who want to better understand the heated debates that this book still causes today. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Browne is probably the most knowledgeable living Charles Darwin expert. Author of a two-volume biography detailing his remarkable and influential life, she now presents a biography of the book that made Darwin a household name, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859). Browne's contribution to the Books That Changed the World series is written with verve as she emphasizes the immediacy of the book's impact as Darwin shattered the biblical Creation story with a theory elegant in its simplicity. Naturally, religious leaders and other believers in faith over facts challenged the book's evolutionary vision. But Darwin's logic withstood all scrutiny. A mild man with a relentlessly curious, profoundly scientific mind, Darwin never intended to upset his world's moral values, nor could he have imagined that his book would transform Western thought. Steve Weinberg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Books That Changed the World
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (February 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802143466
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802143464
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #548,007 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Danny Boy on January 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I had expected much more from Janet Browne, famed Darwin biographer, from her book Darwin's "Origin of Species": A Biography. While the book itself is very readable (I read it in one sitting), it's too superficial a treatment of Charles Darwin's monumental tome On the Origin of Species. As part of the Books That Shook the World series, it doesn't give the reader enough background on the social and scientific situation in Victorian England when the book was developed, written and finally published. So how would we know that it really "shook" the world then?

Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin's ideas, as well as Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation were mentioned briefly, but their differences with Charles Darwin's theory of Natural Selection wasn't fleshed out. Neither was Darwin's development of his central arguments tackled in any appreciable degree. Browne mentioned Darwin's reliance on Malthus, but again, it was only discussed in brief.

I cannot recommend Browne's book except to those who are just beginning their study of Darwin. Instead, I recommend Nildes Eldredge's Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life. It also tackles the development of Darwin's book, but with more detail.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on August 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Shiki on September 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By C. Paula de los Angeles on June 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
Review of Darwin's Origins of Species: Books that Changed the World
By Janet Browne

As the foremost historian on scientist and evolutionary thinker Charles Darwin, Janet Browne successfully writes an accessible and vivid "biography", or account of the past and continued development of the man's most influential work On the Origin of Species, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, first published in 1859. Her book adequately fits the niche of a "popular science" type novel, great for an introduction to the topic or overview of general ideas,.

In this straight-forward, elegantly written historical biography, Browne documents not only the history of Origin, but of Darwin as well. Structurally, the book is divided into five sections, beginning with Darwin's childhood, then a discussion of the influential ideas, then the publication, then the controversy surrounding the publication, and most uniquely, a section on the legacy of the scientific treatise. Throughout these sections, Browne does a fine job balancing the narrative of Darwin, such as the anecdote involving chemistry labs and his brother, Erasmus, with an explanation of the scientific ideas, such as the explanation of Lyell, and then Darwin's gradualism.

What is most noticeable and influential in the environment that Janet Browne paints Darwin growing up is the Victorian society, in which "apes or angels, Darwin or the Bible" and revolution were the questions of the day, and other great thinkers (the work of his contemporaries and predecessors significantly influence his thinking, often making it difficult to understand why Darwin was unique and not just an extension of previous thoughts), such as Lyell and Marx.
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