Charles Darwin : a new life

by John Bowlby

Hardcover, 1991




New York : W.W. Norton, 1991.


Describes Darwin's work as a naturalist, and presents an intimate portrait of him as a son, brother, father, and husband. In this volume, John Bowlby presents Charles Darwin - son, brother, husband, and father - in an intimate and human portrait. Bowlby, an eminent British psychologist, forges well past other biographies by showing Darwin not only in his work as a naturalist, but also as a figure in a small but distinguished circle of intellectuals. He follows the drama of Darwin's discoveries in the Galapagos Islands and Australia and the painful years that followed in virtual isolation at Down House where Darwin wrote the books that ignited controversies persisting to this day. He places Darwin's brilliant unfolding of evolutionary biology within a vivid portrait of Victorian society, a world in ferment during the years in which the foundations of modern biological science were formed. Darwin was considered by friends, colleagues, and family a thoroughly pleasant person and a charming and dignified companion. His outer serenity, however, masked a deep struggle. Throughout his life, Darwin was plagued by, in his own words, "vomiting...shivering, dying sensations, ringing in ears," as well as heart palpitations, blurred vision, and hysterical crying fits. Darwin's illness has baffled historians and spawned endless speculation as to its cause. John Bowlby here convincingly aruges that Darwin's chronic illness was the result of repressed emotions generated by his mother's death. "My mother died in July 1817," wrote Charles Darwin in his autobiography, "when I was a little over eight years old, and it is odd that I can hardly remember anything about her." Drawing on his groundbreaking research into the effects of a parent's death on the child's later development, Bowlby identifies the loss of Darwin's mother as the root of the illness that often deliberated the great scientist and disrupted his revolutionary work. As Bowlby points out, Darwin's suppressed grief over the loss of his mother is most astonishingly revelaed in a letter written by him to a cousin whose young wife had died: "Never in my life having lost one near relation, I daresay I cannot imagine how severe grief such as yours must be." Darwin's illness was not incidental to the life and work of the man. Darwin was obsessed with his health and with the health of his children. He was wracked with guilt for passing along to his children his "wretched stomach," particularly when his eldest daughter Annie, died of "a smart bilious gastric fever." And yet, somehow, between bouts of illness that rendered him a semi-invalid, Darwin set forth, in Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, his theories that would turn the scientific world upside down. In this sympathetic and personal biography, John Bowlby lays bare the very real and vulnerable side of a great man. -- from dust jacket.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Devil_llama
It always seems like there are so many biographies of Darwin that no one could possibly find anything new to write, but each author manages to take a different approach to this complex man. This author explores Darwin's mysterious illness that plagued most of his adult life, and his forays into psuedoscience in an attempt to find some cure. An interesting look at the topic, well worth the time to read.… (more)



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