The impact of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection on the worlds of science and religion has always been acknowledged. In their biography of the scientist, Desmond and Moore focus instead on the way Darwin’s upbringing as a political Liberal influenced his studies of the natural world and made him reticent to propound a theory that would give credence to then-current radical political ideas about the nature of man and society.
The authors provide a healthy blend of traditional biography with an analysis of the intellectual character of the turbulent century in which Darwin worked. A man of great contradictions and complexities, Darwin played many roles in his professional and personal life. Stressing the human qualities of their subject, Desmond and Moore dispel the notion that scientists always work in isolation from the messy realities of everyday life. They trace the personal agonies Darwin suffered as he became increasingly convinced that ruthless forces in nature, not a benevolent God, shaped the present world gradually, over millennia. They also explain why Darwin waited more than twenty years to release his findings, choosing to save himself and his family from the public outcry he knew would follow publication of such a controversial notion.
Desmond and Moore re-create the excitement of Darwin’s quest to understand the natural phenomena he placed under his penetrating gaze. They explain scientific terms clearly while simultaneously conveying to readers the many nuances and human qualities of a man too long regarded as a disembodied scientific intellect.
Sources for Further Study
The Christian Century. CIX, August 26, 1992, p. 776.
London Review of Books. XIV, March 12, 1992, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 26, 1992, p. 1.
Nature. CCCLV, January 16, 1992, p. 215.
New Scientist. CXXXII, October 26, 1991, p. 54.
The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, August 2, 1992, p. 10.
Science. CCLVII, July 17, 1992, p. 419.
The Times Literary Supplement. September 13, 1991, p. 3.
The Washington Post Book World. XXII, July 5, 1992, p. 5.