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Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691136394
ISBN-10: 0691136394
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although the bumper-sticker title seems glib, Levine's book is most assuredly not. It will be a difficult read for nonphilosophers, even though Levine, professor emeritus of English at Rutgers, raises noteworthy points. His main premise is that a close reading of Darwin disproves Max Weber's contention that a "rational scientific" outlook "expels meaning and value from the world." Levine argues persuasively that an understanding of Darwinism can lead to a secular enchantment of the sort experienced by Darwin himself as he worked to make sense of the world around him: "an attitude of awe and love toward the multiple forms of life" in all their extraordinary diversity. Enchantment of this type, Levine explains, is no less important or meaningful than enchantment arising from religion. Levine also offers a textual analysis of Darwin to demonstrate that much writing that claims to derive from Darwin, especially within the realm of politics, does not necessarily follow from his original intent. With polemicists from all portions of the political spectrum attempting to use Darwin to their own advantage, Levine offers a fair warning to readers to be wary of the political extrapolation, because scientific theories themselves have no political content. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"George Levine . . . tries to vindicate Darwin for students of literature by emphasizing his modest 'sense of wonder,' the almost mystical awe at the sheer existence of life in the universe; Darwin disenchanted believers in Heaven, but he reenchanted lovers of Earth. Levine's book is one of the most appealing and subtle attempts to bridge biology and the humanities."-- Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

"Levine restores and celebrates Darwin's humanness, arguing for the vital important to modern democracy of a radically secular, ethical engagement with the world...an engagement that is scientific and sympathetic."--Angelique Richardson, Times Literary Supplement

"Levine argues persuasively that an understanding of Darwinism can lead to a secular enchantment of the sort experienced by Darwin himself."--Publishers Weekly

"George Levine's book Darwin Loves You confronts Weber's problem of the loss of enchantment head-on. Levine's thesis is that this all-too-common view of science in general and evolution in particular is dead wrong and that, in fact, Darwinian evolution provides a model for what he calls 'secular re-enchantment.'...The book is erudite and wonderfully interdisciplinary."--Robert T. Pennock, American Scientist

"Levine's readings of Darwin himself are infectiously enchanted ('Who else would have thought of playing the piano for worms?'), and emphasize the crucial point that Darwin's scientific achievement depended on his capacity for imaginative sympathy with other animals."--Steven Poole, The Guardian (UK)

"Levine's intelligently designed case for secular enchantment seeks to show that Darwin's theories, long reviled by literal creationists, can co-exist with a deep love of natural beauty that does not depend on divine creation."--Kathy English, Globe and Mail

"A considered, carefully worked and sensitive argument for Charles Darwin the man."--Henry Nicholls, Times Higher Education Supplement

"Darwin Loves You combines passion, subtlety, critical scrutiny and moral purpose. . . . Levine is surely right to see hope for our own times in an avowedly Romantic Darwinism."--Marek Kohn, The Independent

"George Levine has written a fascinating book about the impact of Charles Darwin's ideas on Western culture and how they affect people's moral and spiritual values. . . . This book, which represents an admirable attempt to humanize Darwinism, is welcome in today's climate. . . . This book should appeal to the lay public concerned about the growing threat of fundamentalism."--Choice

"Levine's Darwin is a dedicated and scrupulous observer who insisted on scientific clarity and rational precision whether studying finches, barnacles, worms, or human beings. Levine is inspired by the great naturalist's awe before the ordinary, which he characterizes as a kind of inverted sublimity."--Steven G. Kellman, San Antonio Current

"Darwin Loves You is a lucid, incisive and delightful book which shows that literary criticism still has an important part to play in leading us towards a humane culture and in safeguarding and sustaining secular understanding. It is a model too for an interdisciplinary engagement between the literary critic and the world of science. . . . As the intellectual climate has again been favourable to sociobiology, so is it favourable too to this more urgent revival. We live in a more dangerously religiose environment than at any time since the nineteenth century, and the stakes are if anything higher. In times like these, we should be all the more grateful for such a subtle and profound book as Levine has given us."--John Holmes, British Society for Literature and Science

"George Levine offers a compelling view of the kind of deep attachment Darwin felt to his objects of study, broadening that view to a general account of one kind of meaning that one might find in one's own life. Levine's interpretations of both content and form of Darwin's prose are eminently convincing. Levine faces fundamental issues raised by Darwin's conception of natural selection and evolution, taking on the Socratic question, 'How should one live?' in the context of evolutionary science. I hope that others are able to respond likewise, extending and exploring the novel and exciting proposals advanced in Darwin Loves You."--Adam M. Goldstein, Evolution Education and Outreach
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (March 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691136394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691136394
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,430,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on June 30, 2008
Format: Paperback
As the book's cover indicates, "Darwin Loves You" is inspired by a bumper sticker once seen by the book's author. The bumper sticker is, of course, a play on the platitudinous "God Loves You" bumper sticker. And it is easy to suppose that most who have this latter bumper sticker would never own - or see any truth in - the former. AFter all, Darwinian evolution is generally seen as a cold and caustic theory that dashes hopes in the soul or the reality of those pesky intangible values. No awe here; only dessication.

That is the view that literatre professor George Levine aims to dispel. Darwinian evolution - not "Darwinism," as Darwin is not a deity and evolution, not a religion - does not HAVE TO BE a view hostile to values and devoid of happiness. It can be inspiring; it can be beautiful; it is fully compatible with a world of poetry, music, and meaning.

Firt, though, Levine devotes several chapters to the myriad of ideologies that people have based on Darwinian evolution: Marx claimed Darwinian authority for communism, Spencer for capitalism. Kropotkin claimed Darwinism supported anarchism, while others saw it as a rallying cry to support state intervention.

All of these, says Levin (and Douglas Hofstadter before him), were quite understandable but essentially flawed attempts to bolster the less certain world of philosophy and ideology with hard science. And all of their mistakes can be traced to the pesky dilemma that conflates descriptions of what is with prescrptions of what ought to be. Darwinian evolution does not have any positical indubitable conclusions; any attempt to use it as a moral/political doctrine is to stretch the theory into unnatural areas and force square 'facts' to fit round 'values.
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Format: Paperback
Reviewed by Dr. Andrea Diem-Lane

The title of this book, Darwin Loves You, is a take-off of the "Jesus loves you" bumper sticker. But instead of a Christian premise, Levine illustrates that Darwin's research radically enchants the world with a sense of wonder and awe in nature. Much like Chet Raymo's thesis in Skeptic and True Believers, Levine illustrates that Darwin, and science itself, does not in any way de-mystify the world. Rather, scientific research such as Darwin's is able to mystify the world as we are left dumbfounded by the awesome revelations it reveals. Specifically, the Origin of Species gives us an appreciation for how amazing nature is.

Throughout the text the author counters Max Weber's position (as well as William James') that science, following the rational school of thought, disenchants the world and creates a world void of meaning and value. Instead, Levine makes the case that Darwin serves as a model for what Shermer calls "sciensuality." While religion tends to devalue the world, Darwin, argues Levine, offers us a new view. Thus, Weber has it backwards: science is not the one that demystifies the world but religion does. Science offers us a healthy view by explaining the world naturalistically with a deep connection to nature.

Darwin ennobles the earth, he explains clearly, and Weber was simply wrong. In fact, Darwin, through his work, offers "spiritual, cultural, and ethical value." Yet, Levine is talking about a non-theistic enchantment, a wonderment experienced by understanding the world materialistically and naturalistically. For Darwin, matter was not inert or meaningless but alive and vibrant.
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I read this book a while back and remember very little about it. The author writes about what most scientists call altruism--which is when animals do nice things for other animals and, in the case of the human animal, enjoy doing nice things. I got the impression that the author sort of discovered to his own surprise that Darwinian natural selection is not all red in tooth and claw, independently of but not as well as scientists such as Frans De Waal. I would recommend books such as De Waal's Age of Empathy and Keltner's Born to Be Good instead of this book, which is nevertheless competently written.
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Very good, if a little redundant. Written a little like a thesis paper, and with long sentences, it seems like it should be boring, but it is not. It's not a happy-go-lucky book about how pretty the world is, but it shows how "thick with value" Darwin saw the world.

I put this book on my to-read list about 8 years ago when I was becoming agnostic and going through a depression. I was too afraid to read it then, but now after my second depression I felt it was time. I'm not sure it was exactly what I was looking for, but maybe it was. Things might not be as I thought they were when I was Catholic, but the world is still awe inspiring and people are still social creatures and there is still plenty for me to love and get excited about.
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It is not uncommon among some circles of narrow-minded evolution-deniers to claim that Darwin’s theory cheapens the world of nature somehow, as if evolutionary theory somehow destroyed all its poetry and beauty and inspiration. Levine counters that kind of narrow-minded bigotry by arguing that Darwin himself remained thoroughly enchanted with the natural world and that evolution can support a view of life and nature that can be just as rich and rewarding and fulfilling as any religious view. (Richard Dawkins said much the same thing in his “Unweaving the Rainbow.”)

Narrow-minded science-deniers will probably always be with us. This book can help counter their blinkered view.
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