TITLE: The Reluctant Mr. Darwin
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: January 17, 2016 10:07 AM
Yesterday, I finished reading The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, a
short biography of Charles Darwin by
published in 2006. It covers Darwin's life from the time he returns
from his voyage on the HMS Beagle to his death in 1882, with a short
digression to discuss Alfred Russel Wallace's early voyages and
independent development of ideas on evolution and its mechanisms.
Before reading this book, I knew the basics of Darwin's theories but
nothing about his life and very little about the milieu in which he
worked and developed his theories. After reading, I have a better
appreciation for the caution with which Darwin seemed to have worked,
and the care he took to record detailed observations and to support
his ideas with evidence from both nature and breeding. I also have
a sense of how Wallace's work related to and affected Darwin's work.
I could almost feel Darwin's apprehension upon receiving Russell's
letter from southeast Asia, outlining ideas Darwin had been developing,
refining, and postponing for twenty years.
The Reluctant Mr. Darwin is literary essay, not scholarly
history. I enjoyed reading it. The book is at its best when talking
about Darwin's life and work as a scientist, his attitudes and his
work habits. The writing is clear, direct, and entertaining. When
talking about Darwin's theories themselves, however, and especially
about their effect in the world and culturally, the book comes across
as too earnest and a bit too breathless for my taste. But this is a
minor quibble. It's a worthwhile read.