Cover image for Darwin's Origin of species : a biography
Title:
Darwin's Origin of species : a biography
ISBN:
9780871139535
Publication Information:
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, c2006.
Physical Description:
x, 174 p. ; 21 cm.
General Note:
"First published in Great Britain in hardback in 2006 by Atlantic Books"--T.p. verso.
Contents:
Beginnings -- "A theory by which to work" -- Publication -- Controversy -- Legacy.
Summary:
Darwin's foremost biographer, historian Janet Browne, delivers an accessible introduction to the book that permanently altered our understanding of what it is to be human. A sensation on its publication in 1859, The Origin of Species profoundly shocked Victorian readers by calling into question the belief in a Creator with its description of evolution through natural selection. And Darwin's seminal work is nearly as controversial today. In this study, Browne delves into the long genesis of Darwin's theories, from his readings as a university student and his five-year voyage on the Beagle, to his debates with contemporaries and experiments in his garden. She explores the shock to Darwin when he read of a competing scientist's similar discoveries, and the wide and immediate impact of Darwin's theories on the world, showing why The Origin of Species can fairly claim to be the greatest science book ever published.--From publisher description.
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Summary

Charles Darwin's foremost biographer, Janet Browne, delivers a vivid and accessible introduction to the book that permanently altered our understanding of what it is to be human. A sensation on its publication in 1859, The Origin of the Species profoundly shocked Victorian readers by calling into question the belief in a Creator with its description of evolution through natural selection. And Darwin's seminal work is nearly as controversial today. In her illuminating study, Browne delves into the long genesis of Darwin's theories, from his readings as a university student and his five-year voyage on the Beagle , to his debates with contemporaries and experiments in his garden. She explores the shock to Darwin when he read of competing scientist's similar discoveries and the wide and immediate impact of Darwin's theories on the world. As one of the launch titles in Atlantic Monthly Press' "Books That Changed the World" series, Browne's history takes readers inside The Origin of the Species and shows why it can fairly claim to be the greatest science book ever published.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

It may seem peculiar to write a biography of a book, but Darwin's Origin of Species is certainly a worthy subject. A foremost Darwin biographer, Browne takes a straightforward approach to the life and times of this famous tome, beginning with Darwin's early years and journey around the world. She then explains how he developed his theory of evolution (a word that doesn't appear in the first edition) during his years as a country scientist. Darwin included an unusual chapter on things he couldn't yet explain with his theory. On publication, the book gained instant celebrity around the globe-even Queen Victoria took notice of it, though she mused that the book would be too difficult for her to understand. In her discussion of the storm the book aroused, Browne makes the fascinating point that Darwin highly respected his American friend Asa Gray, whose views were very similar to those of today's advocates of intelligent design. Browne's final chapter on the book's legacy isn't comprehensive, but it's a good summary of subsequent modifications to Darwin's theory. This excellent introduction is highly recommended for all readers who want to better understand the heated debates that this book still causes today. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Kirkus Review

Concise history of the paradigm-altering book. Browne (History of Medicine/University College London) considers On the Origin of Species the greatest science book ever published. The editor of Darwin's correspondence and author of a definitive two-volume biography (Charles Darwin, 1995 and 2002) would hardly think otherwise. Browne makes it clear that Darwin knew religious shock waves would reverberate from the idea of "transmutation" by natural selection (the word "evolution" was only later applied to Darwinism); that was why he spent decades garnering his facts and postponing publication. Then came the 1858 letter from Alfred Russel Wallace outlining his own account of natural selection, followed by hurried arrangements to credit both men in short papers read at the Royal Society, and by Darwin's rush into print. Browne retells these familiar events in the context of an increasingly industrial and capitalist society. (T.H. Huxley may have trounced Bishop Wilberforce in the famous "ape vs. angels" debate, but many biblical scholars had already abandoned literal interpretations of the Bible.) The author brings onstage a large cast of opinion-makers, including John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx and assorted poets and writers, to stir the air. Darwin stayed out of the limelight but remained very much in the picture through letters. Browne describes his later life and books, but focuses on the fate of evolutionary theory. Another fine entry in Atlantic's Books That Changed the World series (see P.J. O'Rourke's On the Wealth of Nations, Jan. 2007). Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Browne is probably the most knowledgeable living Charles Darwin expert. Author of a two-volume biography detailing his remarkable and influential life, she now presents a biography of the book that made Darwin a household name, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life0 (1859). Browne's contribution to the Books That Changed the World series is written with verve as she emphasizes the immediacy of the book's impact as Darwin shattered the biblical Creation story with a theory elegant in its simplicity. Naturally, religious leaders and other believers in faith over facts challenged the book's evolutionary vision. But Darwin's logic withstood all scrutiny. A mild man with a relentlessly curious, profoundly scientific mind, Darwin never intended to upset his world's moral values, nor could he have imagined that his book would transform Western thought. --Steve Weinberg Copyright 2006 Booklist


Choice Review

Browne (Univ. College London) explains why she believes Darwin's Origin of Species is the "greatest science book ever published." Exploring how Darwin's brief education at Edinburgh Medical School set the stage for his emergence as a naturalist, she emphasizes the role played by Robert Grant, a charismatic lecturer there. However, it would have meant little if Darwin had not gone on his five-year journey on HMS Beagle: others with a similar background did not ask the same kind of difficult questions he did. Darwin tried to avoid old weaknesses in earlier evolutionary theories, looking for sufficient evidence in support of his own evolutionary ideas before he felt comfortable enough to set them before the public. In this slender volume, Browne discusses the major events of the public's reaction to publication of Origin, Huxley's eloquent defense, and how Darwinian evolution fell out of favor after Darwin's death, until the 20th-century emergence of genetics and synthesis of population genetics and evolution. This book will appeal to a wide audience, including those interested in the history of ideas. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-level undergraduates through professionals; general readers. J. S. Schwartz emeritus, CUNY College of Staten Island


Library Journal Review

Readers who might balk at embarking on Browne's grand, two-volume biography of naturalist Charles Darwin (Darwin: Voyaging and Darwin: The Power of Place) will find this thin book to be an inviting introduction by the expert herself. Browne, formerly a professor at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, University College, London, brings her enthusiastically detailed research on the life and times of Darwin to bear on this volume, but she distills it to a treatment of the preparation, publication, and influence of his seminal 1859 book, The Origin of Species. One cannot help but imagine that this contribution to the publisher's "Books That Changed the World" series was relatively effortless for Browne following her massive Darwin biography. Nonetheless, in all of these books, among the things she succeeds in conveying best is not only the sense of what Darwin must have been like as a person but also the impact of his ideas on science and society. A good introductory book for public and academic libraries; highly recommended. [The most in-depth exhibit on Darwin to date will be on display at the Museum of Science, Boston, and the Field Museum, Chicago, between February 2007 and January 2008.-Ed.]-Walter L. Cressler, West Chester Univ. Lib., PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.