The life and times of Darwin, who was arguably the most influential scientist of the nineteenth century, are the main subjects of Karp’s biography. Had Karp simply presented a life history of Darwin, however, his task would have been difficult enough, for Darwin himself was a complex man. Karp had two further purposes: an explanation of the development of Darwin’s ideas from inchoate form to conclusion and an explanation of the reaction to Darwin’s ideas. In Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species, Karp sought to explain, at a juvenile level, Darwin, Darwinism, and the Darwinian revolution.
In explaining Darwin, Karp focused primarily upon the individual and on his immediate circle. His father and grandfather were both doctors, and their financial and social success guaranteed Darwin a life free from care. His mother was a Wedgwood, a freethinking family that encouraged intellectual thought. This early section of the biography is weak only because Karp does not place Darwin’s early life into perspective. Tremendous changes were occurring in Great Britain at the time; the scientific revolution, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution were altering the very nature of Great Britain, events that are not mentioned in the text. In addition, Josiah Wedgwood, the father of Darwin’s mother, was more than a freethinker; he was a giant of industry and instigator of change, and this background certainly stimulated...
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Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species is a Horizon Caravel book for juveniles published by American Heritage as part of a series of books on a variety of topics, each of which provides an illustrated survey of the subject being considered. Karp’s biography belongs not only in the juvenile section of libraries but also in scientific libraries because of its concise explanations of the topic. The book is readable, enjoyable, and comprehensible, an admirable achievement for any biography and a daunting task for one dealing with a person and topic as complex as Darwin and Darwinism. Karp’s achievement is that he succeeds magnificently in all of his objectives.
Although Karp’s biography explains Darwin’s scientific ideas well, it is the man himself who is the hero of the book. Gentle and reclusive, never combative, a wonderful husband and a doting father, Darwin is portrayed as a magnificent human being. While the focus of Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species must be on the scientist, Karp never loses sight of the humanity of this great theorist.