- Series: Cambridge Science Biographies
- Paperback: 264 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (April 26, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521566681
- ISBN-13: 978-0521566681
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,587,178 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Charles Darwin: The Man and his Influence (Cambridge Science Biographies)
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"Peter Bowler has fulfilled the obligation to explain the significance of Darwin's work to a more general audience, seizing the opportunity to transmit the conclusions of recent scholarship." British Journal for the History of Science
"...a comprehensive survey of Darwin in and out of his own time and a sound introduction to recent scholarship." Times Literary Supplement
Combining biography and cultural history, this study of the controversial Darwin's life and influence shows how his contemporaries were unable to appreciate precisely those aspects of his thinking considered scientifically important today.
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Much of the book is written in a somewhat technical way and is a bit too wordy. I had a difficult time maintaining my interest while I was reading some of the chapters. Certain areas deserved more coverage, like the reaction when Darwin went public with his theories.
On the positive side, this book does give some good insight on Darwin's relationships with the other prominent scientists of his time and there are some moments where the slowness of the book becomes more interesting, like the section that covers Darwin's voyage of discovery aboard the Beagle. Overall, however, Bowler does not really present anything new or profound that we haven't heard before.
Bowler's look at Darwin's life and influence tries to explain how his contemporaries were unable to appreciate those aspects of this theories that are the ones we consider most important today. Ultimately, Darwin is seen as not only a product of his time but a person who transcended it by creating an idea that is still being explored by 21st-century scientists and intellectuals with beliefs and values very different from his own. Bowler shows us not only how Darwin reacted to contemporary ideas, at a time when science and the humanities were not seen as "two cultures," as well as how his ideas were received and adapated. Consequently, in addition to being a biography of a great man of science, it is also an examation of cultural history, which is perhaps the more important part of the effort. I had no problem following the scientific aspects and I never even took biology in high school, so I would think pretty much anybody can understand the arguments as well.
The contents of "Charles Darwin: The Man and his Influence" is as follows: (1) The Problem of Interpretation, which looks at both the man and the myths that has arisen about him as well as the new perspectives on the rise of evolutionism; (2) Evolution before the "Origin of Species" looks at both radical evolutionism and the opponents of transmutation that defined the scientific debate at that time; (3) The Young Darwin covers his family and university life; (4) The Voyage of the "Beagle" details his famous trip to South America and across teh Pacific; (5) The Crucial Years: London, 1837-1842 is when Darwin developed his theory of natural selection; (6) The Years of Development at Down House is when Darwin was able to develop his theory in relative security; (7) Going Public presents the argument of the "Origin of Species"; (8) The Emergence of Darwinism deals less with Darwin than those that picked up his cause such as Alfred Russel Wallace and Thomas Henry Huxley; (9) The Opponents of Darwinism covers the response of those who espoused theistic evolutionism and the rise of Lamarckism; (10) Human Origins is about the "Descent of Man" and the idea of social evolutionism; and (11) Darwin and the Modern World looks at the death of Darwin and the rebirth of Darwinism after that point. The book is illustrated with photograph, cartoons and caricatures, and diagrams from Darwin's notebooks.
The Cambridge Science Biographies are written by prominent international authorities in the history of science and are intended to be readily accessible to the general reader and student. While society depends upon science what scientists actually do remains a mystery to many people. Despite science usually being presetned dispassionately and impersonally, editor David Knight points out that "science is a human activity, and the personalities of those who practice it are integral to its process." Other volumes in this series are devoted to Galileo, Isaac Newton, Humphry Davy, Henry More, Antoine Lavoisier, and Andre-Marie Ampere. These scientists were chosen for their eminence and these biographies are intended to both illuminate the scientific process and to place the scientists in the social and intellectual context of their age.
Bowler's book was the first biography I have read of Darwin, and I found it very enjoyable. It is one of the college books that I have kept. I definitely recommend it to any reader interested in Darwin's work and influence.