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A reader's guide to Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist

Updated Monday, 2nd February 2009

As part of the celebration of Darwin's bicentenary, we invite you to join us reading what is considered by many to be the definitive biography. Stephanie Forward introduces 'Darwin' by Adrian Desmond and James Moore.

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Darwin at Dove House

2009 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth, and also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous work: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Our selected book for February won the 1991 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Biography. Its authors set out "to portray the scientific expert as a product of his time."

Those of our forum readers who took the popular Open University module An Introduction to the Humanities should already be familiar with the name James Moore.

He wrote study materials about the History of Science, in which he explained that this discipline "specializes in showing how science is historical, how it has been made", and stressed the need "to understand the past as far as possible on its own terms rather than those of the present."

Darwin as depicted in the 30th September 1871 edition of Vanity Fair

Using Darwin’s extensive correspondence and the definitive transcription of his Notebooks, Desmond and Moore traced the roots of his ideas and placed the man in context, re-locating him in his age and revealing "the larger world that made Darwin’s evolution possible." Theirs was "a defiantly social portrait."

Darwin was meticulously researched, with an extensive bibliography. The book was hailed both for its immaculate scholarship and its readability.

Of course On the Origin of Species...had a tremendous influence in its day, and its ramifications were far-reaching.

Many critics have discussed Darwin's impact upon literature; therefore, next month we will extend our Darwin theme by exploring the novel Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks.


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