- Paperback: 624 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition Thus edition (October 5, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691114390
- ISBN-13: 978-0691114392
- Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 27 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #550,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 2 - The Power of Place Paperback – October 5, 2003
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Winner of the 2002 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
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This biography is matchless in detail and compass, and one feels an abiding gratitude that Browne was willing to sacrifice so many years of her life to reconstruct Darwin's.---John Tooby, New York Times
A masterpiece. . . . Brown took on an enormously ambitious project, and only an astonishingly skillful writer and a masterly historian could have pulled it off. She has.---Benjamin Schwarz, Atlantic Monthly
[A] sprawling, magnificent biography. Integrating the best of current scholarship with her own discoveries, Browne's account is state of the art.---Richard Milner, Scientific American
Superb. . . . An intimate yet clinical study.---Keith Stuart Thomas, American Scientist
Soothing, unhurried, and absorbing. . . . Browne has succeeded triumphantly in the biographer's most important task: she has made [Darwin] human.---Jane Ridley, Spectator
About the Author
Janet Browne is Professor in the History of Biology at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at University College London and is currently President of the British Society for the History of Science. She is the author of several books, including Charles Darwin: Voyaging (Princeton), and has served as Associate Editor of The Correspondence of Charles Darwin.
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The later Darwin, plagued constantly by illness, comes across as a gentle and kind person but very subject to the English class system. His close friendship with Alfred Wallace is spelled out in detail. Overall, Browne estimates Darwin wrote 1500 letters a year to both the famous and the not so famous. He was remarkably conscientious; generosity comes across as a major character trait even in the face of tremendous physical pain at times. Yet this same man refused to attend the funerals of the two people most influential in his life – Henslowe and Lyell. Browne, who could have given many excuses for her subject, knows Darwin’s letters and personal circumstances so well that she bluntly calls him “selfish” for not being able to overcome his fears for the sake of his friends’ families. You get a full picture of the man by an author who knows him as well as anyone can. This is a great book. Combined with the first volume, Browne’s Darwin biography stands out in first rank among biographies of scientists, no matter what the field.
Allow me to explain a little why Browne's biography is a stellar piece of work. Perhaps you are interested in reading a much shorter treatment of Darwin's life, and there is no shortage of works by competent authors, even writers that can make it all so much more exciting. You may notice a certain spin or a thesis around which all of these authors build their stories of the subject's life.
To an extent, perhaps even Browne does that, but after reading the whole, I cannot easily come away from her work believing she did it all for some political or ideological reason. What I am trying to convey is that she has presented an extremely thorough, wide-ranging, utterly exhaustive treatment which has been done in fairness, showing the great and minor events, even the virtues and vices of Charles Darwin and surrounding significant characters in his life. One can truly walk away from this reading feeling like one has known the great scientist.
So many other articles, books, or even forms of video seem to have gotten so much wrong. One major message I have received from this more authoritative source is that Charles and Emma did not seem to have had much problem because of the differences in regard to faith and belief in Christianity. Emma apparently did not have enormous issues with the things Charles wrote, and was even quite involved with helping him with editing and anything else he needed, as were his sons and daughters, especially Henrietta.
Another revelation (to me) is how late in life it was when he lost faith. "I never gave up Christianity until I was forty years of age." -- pg 484. That was part of an interview with some freethinkers that were asking about that particular subject. Earlier in this volume, on pg 391, it is recorded "he felt decisive -- these were the most godless years of his life." This is speaking of the last decade of his life, after the publication of "Descent of Man" and "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals."
One last example of a treasure mined from this book is a quote from writings of his son, Francis. Only part of this quote is in the book, as Browne was discussing the primitive methods used by Darwin when so many technologies were springing up to modernize his type of experimentation. I went to the source to widen the context a little:
"I have always felt it to be a curious fact, that he who had altered the face of Biological Science, and is in this respect the chief of the moderns, should have written and worked in so essentially a non-modern spirit and manner. In reading his books one is reminded of the older naturalists rather than of the modern school of writers. He was a Naturalist in the old sense of the word, that is, a man who works at many branches of the science, not merely a specialist in one."
The odd thing is that even though he shunned much of the technology available to him that may have standardized and increased the accuracy of his work, he still was more accurate in his assessments and predictions than the vast majority of other scientists working at the time in state of the art facilities, while Darwin was working in his home and the surrounding grounds.
There is indeed beauty and genius in simplicity.