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Showing 1-10 of 14 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 28 reviews
on April 5, 2017
Both volumes are superb. Unsurpassed. Browne's only bump in the road was her psychoanalyzing Darwin's health. (Crohn's disease?) While it doesn't take away from his expertise and accomplishments, one wonders his impact had he not had his father's monetary backing and inheritance. Political correctness was in play back then as Darwin had to carefully shield his growing atheism. Indeed, he believed truly reasonable and rational men were not believers. Inherit the Wind, indeed.
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on March 31, 2015
Just like in the first volume of her Darwin biography, Janet Browne’s The Power of Place is clearly written, loaded with interesting anecdotes, and a joy to read. Browne’s deep familiarity with Darwin’s letters and scientific work comes out on every page. The book begins with the publication of Origin of Species and, unlike many other biographies, covers the subject’s later work in great detail. The book reads like it was written by a close friend of Darwin, a friend that is not afraid to point out both his strengths and weaknesses. Darwin’s intense love of detailed work in nature, from orchids to worms, leaves the reader with a real sense of how the power of evolution lies in the details. His explanations, such as many of those in The Descent of Man, were often inadequate, given the lack of information that we have today, but his intuitive leaps were superb. Besides his revolutionary insight into natural selection and the development of life on earth, Darwin’s “gemmules” were clear forerunners of genetic theory and his understanding of facial expressions was a major breakthrough in what has become an important part of psychology.

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.
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on February 15, 2015
While this second volume is not quite so exciting as the first, one cannot help but be impressed with Darwin's doggedness in pursuing his observations of Nature's wonders. One is reminded of Anthony Trollope's remark that the thing he most feared was inactivity. In sickness--which was often--or in health Darwin set himself, and often his children, a rigorous schedule of collecting data from the natural world, all the while honing his theory of natural selection. Evolution was a word applied by others, especially Alfred Wallace, who in his own copy of Origin replaced every note of natural selection with the word evolution.
This book is a joy to read, but I am sure that it will be the first volume to which I return again and again.
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VINE VOICEon October 12, 2010
It is a pleasure to have completed the second volume of Janet Browne's magnificent ~1200 page biography of Darwin, perhaps the only biography needed to review the life of a much greater man. Part one, can be found here: Charles Darwin: A Biography, Vol. 1 - Voyaging. Volume two begins with preparations and publication of "On the Origin of Species," and continues until his death 23 years later. His autobiography, edited by Nora Barlow, The Autobiography of Charles Darwin: 1809-1882, is a wonderful addition, mainly to get his own thoughts on a few things, but autobiographies are inadequate to fully examine someone's life.

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.
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on February 4, 2008
This is the second volume of Janet Browne's superb biography of Charles Darwin (1809-1882). Browne, who is now Professor of the History of Science at Harvard, wrote both volumes while at the vital WellCome Trust Center at University College London (also the locale of the late Roy Porter). The book is just excellent all the way through. It picks up just at the point when the march of events is forcing Darwin to publish his finding in the epic "On the Origin of Species," when he is 49. Browne develops some interesting insights; such as the importance of the excellent British postal service to Darwin's work, since he communicated and exchanged information with individuals all around the world. In addition, she focuses upon the importance of that most unique institution, Mudie Library, which did so much to circulate Darwin's books throughout Britain, thereby altering CD's intention that his book would be targeted for a small elite audience. The author also has something to say about one of the most interesting Victorian figures, published John Murray, who benefitted from the surge of publishing and literacy in the mid-Victorian period. The profusion of journals and periodicals, such as the Edinburgh Review and the Westminister Quarterly Review, also did much so disseminate Darwin's ideas, as did events such as the Huxley v. the Bishop of Wilberforce debate ("I'd rather be a monkey than a bishop").

Equally interesting and important is Browne's discussion of how Darwin conducted his research and wrote a number of books. His research of heredity, facial expressions, worms, reefs and other topics are all covered. Browne does a good job in discussing all of the debates that erupted after the publication of the "Origin," and this tells us much about the development of Victorian science and intellectual history. Also of note is her discussion of how Darwin's ideas spread, the effects of celebrity on CD and his work, and his views of Christianity. The book is so well written that it is a pleasure to read, as Browne discusses some difficult concepts with such clarity and skill and every reader, no matter how extensive a scientific background, benefits from her treatment.
The book is supported by 63 pages of excellent notes, some helpful illustrations, and a 36 page bibliography. Browne is generally acknowledged as one of the world's leading scholars on the life and work of Darwin. Her involvement as Associate Editor of the 14 volume "Correspondence of Charles Darwin" has finely honed her understanding of Darwin and his thought. We should all be thankful that she is now at Harvard where more Americans can benefit from her superb expertise and insights.
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on August 13, 2003
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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on January 9, 2003
Two things vault Ms. Browne's work far above the average biography. First, she brilliantly reveals how Darwin's life arose out of and was an integral part of 19th England. Ms. Browne, of course, thoroughly explains evolution and the debate Darwin's work generated. But she goes far beyond this and exposes how Darwin's work would have been impossible without everything from the expanding British empire, the incredible British postal system, the growing number of periodical readers, the British class system and much more. Ms. Browne seems able to penetrate the very mind of the 19th century and expose how a scientific theory was developed, promulgated, debated and slowly accepted. The reader learns not only about Darwin, but about science and life in general in Victorian England.
The second factor that sets Ms. Browne's work apart is, fortunately, that she can write. All of the above, particularly when spread over more than 1,000 pages, could still be dreadfully dull, but Ms. Brown's pen generates life on every page (even though Darwin rejected spontaneous generation theories!).
This review is based on the full two-volume biography. One could surely read the second volume alone, but why?
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on November 2, 2015
it is a good complement of part !, although a bit longer that it needed to be, but it gives a good portrait of the Victorian age
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on January 29, 2007
This one is also great, get both of these wonderful books on Charles Darwin. The first one is slightly better than this one, as one expects from biographies. CD is settled down, mostly writing and promoting his beliefs. He is sick a lot, but carries on. There just got to be too much detail toward the end of this, for me. Otherwise the level of detail and tone was pitchperfect throughout. What an astounding, amazing effort these two books represent. A real gem.
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on December 26, 2013
I bought it for my husband, who after reading Vol. ! wished to finish the story of Mr. Darwin. He still thanks me for my choice and have enjoyed endless hours of pure joy reading the second Volume of the series.

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