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The Darwin Conspiracy Paperback – September 12, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
When penning a novel, make sure it is interesting to the reader.
Alas, there is little interesting in Darnton's latest effort. THE DARWIN CONSPIRACY is as bland as an empty ice cream cone; Darnton's historical narrative reminded me of the sports cliche "going through the motions." Nowhere--not at any time--did a character or plot jump out to grab me, or even pique my interest. As the book moved along the pages became heavier and heavier to turn.
Told from three points of view, this book has loads of potential. Two modern day historians are about to uncover a "shocking" revelation about Charles Darwin himself. . .a discovery that won't put the founder of evolution in a very favorable historical light. We also read about Darwin's voyage upon the "Beagle" in the 1830s, as young Charles must deal with a wacky ship captain and an intense scientific competitor. And finally, we are privy to the journals and letters of Darwin's daughter Lizzie; all three plots are intertwined, and it would be great if it worked, but it doesn't.
The modern day story is boring, its characters totally one-dimensional. Lizzie's contribution requires a suspension of disbelief from Pluto itself; historically depicted as "slow," this spinster daughter of Darwin's is presented here as a woman of uncanny intelligence--yet not intelligent enough to make good decisions while in the throes of passion. And Darwin's "Beagle" adventures. . .Read more ›
Twentyish Darwin spends five years on the Beagle taking copious notes of what he observes on his journey and becomes increasingly confident in his abilities to do his job while a rival tries to usurp his findings. His notes serve as the basis of his classic Origin of Species by Natural Selection released in 1858. In the 1870s Darwin's youngest daughter Lizzie keeps a journal that show her growing concern about her father who seemingly over night changed from a vigorous person into a frightened shadow of himself. Hugh and Beth find Lizzie's diaries.
This interesting tale uses three points of view to tell a fictionalized account (based on known facts) of Darwin. The story opens with Hugh and Beth teaming up as both fixates over learning the mysteries of Darwin and on each other (that common obsession helps). The second (and by far the most interesting and intelligently designed) subplot follows Darwin's adventures from drinking with the Captain before leaving, to seasickness, to self-assured individual and finally struggling with a competitor. The final segue focuses on Lizzie's diary. Though well written, the present subplot seems unnecessary as it turns the life of Darwin into more of an academic mystery that includes a final shocking twist. While readers will enjoy sailing with Darwin and somewhat Lizzie's follow up in his later life, the present pales in comparison.
This elegant novel traces the life of Charles Darwin from childhood to his adventures on the "Beagle", his aging years, & spinning an entrancing story of mystery surrounding his voyage companions, his family & an attempt to define the time-line delays of two decades before publication of "The Origin of Species".
The story is told most cleverly in three voices: the passionate idyllic scholars Hugh Kellem & Beth Dulcimer: his daughter Lizzie (a.k.a. "Bessie" & Elizabeth), & Charles Darwin himself. Hugh & Beth have a titillating romance while researching for lost or archived correspondence on Darwin; Lissie secretly journals Papa Darwin's activities whilst Charles chronicles an early education, role as Beagle's Naturalist & his relationship with the crew, islanders, academic associates & family.
The read is extremely good -- suffice to say each of the 3 voices have their own affairs, trysts & difficulties but in the end there is a very satisfactory resolution of these unsettled goings on. Undoubtedly, some will be wont to obtain "Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti to read "come buy our orchard fruits, come buy, come buy..." as overheard by Laura & Lizzie -- but that's another story.
I can't recall the last time I disliked a book so much. This report has several spoilers, so if you plan to read the book, (and I hope you don't) stop right here.
History records that the HMS Beagle's ship surgeon was responsible for collecting scientific specimens as the Beagle sailed on her charting journey. His name was Robert McCormick and Mr. Darnton draws an intense rivalry between the surgeon and young Darwin in his fictional account of the journey. But history says that McCormick left the ship in Rio de Janeiro , well before Darwin collected his specimens and notes on the Galapagos Islands.
But Mr. Darnton changes things so that McCormick is not only with Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, but it was he who first realized the truth about natural selection before Darwin. Of course, this does not sit well with the ambitious young Darwin, so in a highly improbable moment inside an erupting volcano, Darwin fails to rescue McCormick after McCormick helps Darwin escape. This is highly convenient so that Darwin alone can announce the news to the world. (There is also a plot-line that unfolds a bit later where we learn that Dawin and McCormick spoke with a tribal chieftain on Tierra del Fuego who tells them of "survival of the fittest." So according to Darnton, neither Darwin or McCormick came to the realization themselves)
History also relates how a biologist named Alfred Russel Wallace also had come up with a theory of natural selection at the same time as Darwin and when Darwin found out, he graciously arranged for Wallace to make the announcement co-jointly. Darnton's treatment of Wallace's scientific abilities is even worse than his treatment of Darwin's.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Historical perspective turned on its heels. What if this instead of that?! A most intriguing premise from which to conjur extreme, but possible, indeed nearly probable, alternative... Read morePublished 20 months ago by Anthony George Collura
A clever attack on the arrogance of whoever thinks his is the right god, and his religion is the only truth.Published on April 7, 2014 by Sassy Gramy
Overall a good book..however kind of a drag..especially regarding the details on the American Indians and the character Jemmy Button.Published on November 14, 2013 by meme
In The Darwin Conspiracy, Darnton has exploited holes and inconsistencies in Darwin's life story/mythos to craft a historical pastiche that more or less delivers the goods. Read morePublished on March 21, 2013 by J Thomas
I just finished this book and have to say I found it quite disappointing. I expected a fun story about scholars on the trail of a historical mystery--a la A.S. Read morePublished on June 26, 2012 by Jeanne
Have read several Darnton tales and only recently realized they were all from the same author, a page turner and gives you goose bumpsPublished on May 2, 2012 by Radio Davio
I found this to be a well-written and interesting historical novel that gives windows into the time and lives of the characters. Read morePublished on February 1, 2012 by goodfaith
My definition of historical fiction is a work that takes key pieces of a very real history while expanding and filling in the gaps of the unknown to create a more fully fleshed... Read morePublished on December 21, 2011 by Jason Golomb
This is a historical novel with a twist of alternative history. When two scientists locked in a rivalry over Charles Darwin come across some papers of Darwin's daughter's, they are... Read morePublished on November 17, 2011 by Clif