Gregor sees Darwin as a brilliant but misunderstood child who grows up to become an extremely misunderstood man. As a child, Darwin’s demanding father and the extraordinarily strict English boarding school system served to deny Darwin his own interests and pursuits. Gregor attempts to show the world that it was almost deprived of one of its leading scientific minds because of the rigors of Victorian England. By doing so, Gregor also tells his young readers that it is fine to follow one’s heart and to be wary of the conventions of society. Teenage readers can identify strongly with a student who struggled throughout his academic career, dropped out of medical school, and still made something of himself.
Gregor seems to admire and respect Darwin, his scientific discoveries, and his brilliant mind, but the author shows Darwin’s struggles along with his successes. Darwin spent many years agonizing over the fact that the theory of evolution by natural selection would challenge the accepted thinking of the day. Darwin also wanted to make his theories more than theories: He wanted to be able to offer hard evidence as proof. Gregor’s approach to the scientific side of the book—an explanation of Darwin’s theory and how he came to his conclusion that living creatures evolved—is practical and understandable for the young reader. Using a narrative style, Gregor takes a complex, potentially dull subject and creates a readable story.
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Darwin has remained a controversial figure because of his theory of evolution and natural selection. Gregor’s Darwin, however, is a man caught up in great controversy as a result of his scientific discoveries. Darwin did not seek to challenge accepted religious theory—after all, he once planned a career in the clergy. Darwin is also portrayed as an academic underachiever struggling with his career and the conventions of society. Set in the context of the 1960’s, when this book was first published, the book could be about any student, not only Darwin.
One of Gregor’s aims in writing this book was to show other slow starters that a lack of understanding from teachers or parents need not be detrimental. Charles Darwin succeeds on all levels. The history is accurate and the science is understandable to the lay reader. The portrayal of Darwin as an ordinary man who created a fury but became a respected scientist is an important lesson for students who are unfamiliar with Darwin’s life.