Charles Darwin : a biography

by E. J. Browne

Paper Book, 1996

Status

Available

Publication

Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1996]-

Description

Few lives of great men offer so much interest--and so many mysteries--as the life of Charles Darwin, the greatest figure of nineteenth-century science, whose ideas are still inspiring discoveries and controversies more than a hundred years after his death. Yet only now, with the publication of Voyaging, the first of two volumes that will constitute the definitive biography, do we have a truly vivid and comprehensive picture of Darwin as man and as scientist. Drawing upon much new material, supported by an unmatched acquaintance with both the intellectual setting and the voluminous sources, Janet Browne has at last been able to unravel the central enigma of Darwin's career: how did this amiable young gentleman, born into a prosperous provincial English family, grow into a thinker capable of challenging the most basic principles of religion and science? The dramatic story of Voyaging takes us from agonizing personal challenges to the exhilaration of discovery; we see a young, inquisitive Darwin gradually mature, shaping, refining, and finally setting forth the ideas that would at last fall upon the world like a thunderclap in The Origin of Species. ?… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member jduckart
I personally like science writing that isn't overly stylistic. It tends to distract me from the content of the book (I think Gould fits in the overly stylistic category). This book was written in a straight-forward manner, and provides a fascinating account of Darwin's life up to the point where he's about to write the Origin of Species.… (more)
LibraryThing member nmele
At the close of this 550 page biography of Darwin's life up to age 49, I was disappointed that I would have too wait to read the second volume. You might think that 200 pages on Darwin's early life is too much, but Browne reveals his early interest in nature and offers convincing evidence that Darwin was not the home-bound hypochondriac I at least imagined before reading this biography. We tend to focus too much on natural selection and evolution, and not enough on his studies of geology and taxonomy, not to mention Darwin's successful fossil-hunting in South America. Sound intriguing? It is! It's also very illuminating about how Darwin struggled to explain species variability and to accept evolution as a fact, and how he became a masterful politician in the scientific circles of his day.… (more)
LibraryThing member malmorrow
Janet Browne's career is subsumed in this masterpiece. This isn't merely a biography of Darwin. It's an account of the role of science in the early and middle Victorian period, spanning continents. She writes about the rivalry between Cambridge (Darwin's second university) and Oxford; the role of Parliamentary reform in the universities, and its relationship to political and church reform; what natural theology was about and what happened to it; the function of women in science writing as editors and hidden contributors; the fundamental importance of the postal service.

Browne's scholarship yields enormous clarity and breadth of vision. It's not just a brilliant biography and contextual history, but sets challenging standards for the writing of biography in general. This is certainly the best biography I have read in a very long time.

I'm busy with the second volume now. Review coming when done!
… (more)

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