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Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 2 - The Power of Place Paperback – October 5, 2003

4.9 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When Browne published her first volume on the life of Darwin seven years ago (Charles Darwin: Voyaging), she secured her reputation as the last word on the Victorian naturalist. Now she has published the much-anticipated second half, and it is more spellbinding than the first, which ended on a cliffhanger of sorts. Darwin was back from his Beagle voyages, his famous evolutionary principles were distilled in his mind and the Bible-centered science of his day was about to be convulsed forever. Here, Browne picks up the story a year before the publication of On the Origin of Species, with the arrival of a package from Alfred Russel Wallace, whose own ideas on natural selection virtually mirrored Darwin's, forcing him to go public; as Browne shows, he proved himself a master tactician of institutional and media spin. Browne's subject is monumental, but her writing style is never overburdened by the weight. Rather, her prose is elegant in its clarity of thought, her craftsmanship impeccable in the way it weaves a coherent whole from the innumerable threads of thought, experience and persona that comprised this colossal life. Darwin's science, Browne contends, was characterized by his systematic use of correspondence, which the author puts to effective use in her narrative, again illustrating how the naturalist's thought was as much the collective product of his day as it was its single-most intellectual catalyst. Readers are left with the image of the sailor returned home to dig in his garden, stare into the past and, in dying, slip into legend.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

This volume concludes a magisterial biography. The first volume, Charles Darwin: Voyaging, examined how the young Darwin formed his ideas. Now Browne, a zoologist and historian of science, offers a frank, comprehensive, and detailed account of the last half of Darwin's life (l858-82), focusing on both his major contributions to natural history and his pioneering researches into many biological subjects, ranging from orchids and insectivorous plants to the inheritance of characteristics and earthworms. She stresses the serious scientific and theological controversies that surrounded the publication of On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (l871) and emphasizes the great value Darwin found in his relationships with like-minded naturalists such as Charles Lyell, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, and Alfred Wallace. Besides all the facts, ideas, and events, the reader also discovers the human side of the scientific father of organic evolution. Of special interest is Browne's attention to Darwin's quiet family life at Down House, including insights into his voluminous correspondence and debilitating ill health. In this very impressive volume, Darwin emerges as a modest and private genius consumed with the need to understand the complexities of life forms through critical observation and persistent experimentation. Highly recommended for all academic and public science collections. H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY
Copyright 2002 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: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (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: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #743,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James R. Mccall on January 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Well, this is volume II of a magnificent two-volume biography. In its patient, sympathetic and intelligent rendering it exemplifies those qualities in Darwin himself. Moreover, this is truly the second volume. One could read this without having read "Voyaging" and make sense of it, but Darwin and his world would be less fleshed-out, he and his friends would not be old friends of yours, and the story, which is nothing less than a whole life well-lived (but not, be it noted, perfectly-lived), the less thereby. And what is more, the Darwin-Wedgewood genealogy is not reproduced here - you need volume I for that.
Darwin, for someone of such stature socially and scientifically, was a rooted, private man. He rarely left his spacious, gated home at Down except to visit one of his few good friends or relatives. His public appearances were nearly as noted as the Pope's. In spite of this seeming exclusiveness, he maintained an immense and warm correspondence all over the world. Alfred Russell Wallace, for example, was one of his good friends, but almost entirely by means of letters. Moreover, he received a constant stream of visitors at Down, many of whom were hardly known to him, and some of whom barely spoke English.
However, these visits were rarely extended beyond a courteous lunch. Darwin would often plead weakness or illness (or let one of the womenfolk do it for him) in order to get away to his study and his studies after being dutifully social. Of course, if it was Huxley, or Lyell, or Hooker visiting, then Darwin had considerably more strength for conversation. These old friends formed the core of his scientific network, and, along with Asa Gray in America, were his representatives in the larger scientific world.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As several reviewers (including at least one critic of Darwin) have said, this volume is part of the best biography of Darwin yet published. It is hard to criticize this work as Janet Browne has included more detail and hit the nail on the head more times than in any other treatment of Darwin and his ideas. I have read five biographies, several specialized biographies and Darwin's autobiography and can easily say that this by far the best! Browne is simply superb in capturing the spirit of Victorian England and weaving it into a cogent story of the background and inspiration for "The Origin of Species," as well as Darwin's latter work. This volume covers the period from the receipt of Wallace's manuscript on natural selection through Darwin's death. It finally puts paid to the popular notion that Darwin stole his ideas from Wallace, without slighting the originality of the younger man. Darwin was a great thinker, not because he was unusually brilliant, but because he concentrated his thinking on a problem until he came up with a plausible explanation backed up by numerous bits of circumstantial evidence. While many changes have occurred in evolutionary thought because of the genetic and molecular revolutions, Darwin produced the most complete arguments for the common descent of organisms available to science at the time. He thus laid the foundation of our understanding of modern biology. This is true despite opinions to the contrary and, indeed, without evolutionary theory we would have to say goodbye to rigor in not only biology, but geology and astronomy as well!
It is my hope that anybody interested in the historical background of evolutionary theory will read both of Browne's books. They are well worth it!
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Format: Hardcover
Charles Darwin's "place" in history is secure. The concept of evolution by natural selection was "the single best idea anyone has ever had," as Daniel C. Dennett so aptly put it. Although the idea seems simple, Browne establishes that the man who conceived it was anything but that. In taking two substantial volumes to depict Darwin's life, Browne reveals the complexity and control hidden beneath his serene outward demeanor. For many years, Darwin's seclusion at Down House left the impression of the retired, retiring scientific thinker. On the contrary, Browne shows "a remarkable tactician" manipulating friends,
colleagues and, in the final analysis, society at large. This compelling study is the outstanding work on Darwin. Her focus on his motivations, activities and other aspects of what made him such a towering figure makes this a remarkable work. This magnificent study and its companion "Voyaging" will maintain their value as Darwin's pre-eminent account for many years.
The pivotal point, of course, is Darwin's 1859 book, The Origin of Species. Browne recounts the "Wallace letter" which nearly toppled Darwin from the place of priority in developing the idea of natural selection. Darwin's friends and colleagues rallied to sustain him while maintaining fairness to both him and Wallace. The many years of study Darwin had given to the concept resulted in the volume that changed our view of life, but it remains an open question whether he would have published without the "thunderbolt from Ternate." Browne's view isn't narrow, however, as she places Origin within the broader schema of Victorian writing, whether fiction, social commentary, poetry or science.
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