The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles reviews The Reluctant Mr. Darwin: An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution by David Quammen, in American Scientist:

Darwin_8Since the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1859, interest in Darwin’s life has waned and eventually waxed, especially after the publication in the last 20 years of his private notebooks and correspondence. Several excellent biographers have used these materials to inform us about the great scientist’s thought processes and to examine details of his everyday life.

Yet even with this new information, Darwin’s behavior is still puzzling. He ached for recognition from his scientific peers, but, as David Quammen suggests with his title—The Reluctant Mr. Darwin—Darwin postponed publishing the very theory he wanted recognition for discovering.

A prize-winning science journalist, Quammen credits the recent biographers, acknowledging that his concise book is not based on original research. He has written a kind of extended essay for those not familiar with Darwin’s life after his famous journey on HMS Beagle or with the truly radical implications of natural selection—the mechanism of evolution Darwin wanted, but also feared, to reveal. To explain this reluctance to publish, Quammen concentrates on Darwin’s intellectual and emotional life beginning in 1837, soon after he returned from five years at sea, setting Darwin in the context of the political, economic and scientific forces then shaping England.

More here.