Read Darwin by Adrian J. Desmond Free Online

Ebook Darwin by Adrian J. Desmond read! Book Title: Darwin
The author of the book: Adrian J. Desmond
Edition: Warner Books (NY)
Date of issue: July 1st 1992
ISBN: 0446515892
ISBN 13: 9780446515894
Language: English
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 959 KB
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Reader ratings: 4.7

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After p. 235

This book is clearly a superlative example of highly successful biographical narrative. There's nothing new in this assessment, so I won't waste words of that kind. I will, however, waste words of another import.

Happenstance brought this biography to my attention while I was reading D&M's re-examination of certain events in Darwin's life, which they explored in "Darwin's Sacred Cause" (2009), and now I"m beginning to understand why they authored a second book.

D&M are seeking an answer to a question that has sustained their abiding and apparently compelling, even passionate and obsessive, interest in the facts of Darwin's life: What inner "force" propelled his project? However did Darwin contrive to take up the issue of the origin of species and sustain the altogether indefatigable labor that he expended over decades to establish a plausible and defensible basis for his views of descent and differentiation of all life forms, even while his views, once widely known, evoked nearly universal rejection, scorn, contempt, and the rabid hostility of his contemporaries? Hostility that provokes violent confrontations today - nearly 175 years after Darwin first formulated his theory and 153 years after the first edition of The Origin of Species appeared? From what inner resources did he summon this heroic endurance in view of his character and personality - his urgent need for approval, acceptance, adulation, his apparent conventionality, his horror at the prospect of a loss of respectability, loss of standing as an English gentleman? Hence, the presence of "tormented" in D&M's subtitle. A torment that left his entire digestive tract in shreds.

In this biography (1994) they offer answers those questions - answers that satisfied them at the time, I suspect, and in their second consideration of them in "Darwin's Sacred Cause" (2009), they present different answers. And they make clear in Sacred Cause how their second set of answers evolved from the first.

I won't repeat them here. The fact of this difference, however, merits more detailed consideration, I think, because it raises important questions regarding the possibility of entirely credible biography.

D&M, and most any biographer of persons long dead, can do nothing other than to draw upon a limited residue of documentary evidence - literary remains. Darwin journaled, of course. He developed his theory in bits and snatches, along with the questions that these rudiments suggested as they occurred to him, and he recorded it all in his notebooks. He did not, however, record his emotional experience of those critical years around 1837, when he committed his first theoretical and explanatory formulations to paper, nor his emotional experience of later years of unremitting labor and terror as he compiled and interpreted mountainous heaps of evidence that he hoped would silence his critics, who were legion. I doubt, frankly, whether he much cared about or even noticed the emotional toll of his work, except perhaps to decide when he needed and would take another rest cure at a particularly exclusive and fashionable spa. Moreover, Darwin lived before the likes of Barbara Walters were born, so he was never confronted with the annoying questions that interviewers of today ask: What need motivated for this, that or the other? How do you account for...? How did it feel when ....?

D&M ask the same sort of questions, of course (How could they not?), and in arriving at answers they must grapple with many, many silences, gaps in the record. [I imagine them standing before Darwin's tomb in Westminster Abbey, pounding his monument with their fists, pleading for answers. How could you...? Why did you...?] So they do what they have to do - they seek plausible answers that accord with whatever apparently relevant evidence they can scratch together at the time they write.

The problem, their tragedy, perhaps, is that such answers don't necessarily satisfy over the long-term. Regression theory instructs us that an infinite number of curves will fit a set of discrete and discontinuous data points, i.e. when there are gaps, absences of data, between the data points that are given. And so it is with biography, and in this case so it is with D&M's two biographical studies of Darwin. Once they posited one answer, i.e. once they have fit one curve through the data they had assembled, they are satisfied for a while - until they realize that their curve doesn't really fit the data so well after all or that other curves achieve a better fit, that their first answers aren't quite so plausible or credible once they, and their critics, have subjected them to sustained scrutiny and especially after they examine heaps and heaps of evidence that they hadn't thought relevant or had time to consider when they formulated their first answer. And so they write a second book that posits a revised, and more fully satisfactory explanation - satisfying for the present, at least.

So let us pity the poor, tormented biographer. A particular and relentlessly insistent curiosity compels their work, and even if they write and re-write Darwin's biography to the end of their present earthly lives and through an infinite succession of reincarnations, they will never and can never desist, because no earthly power will ever completely fill in the gaps between the data points they have, and even if some power did complete the record, even if they had a seamless recording of Darwin's stream of consciousness, and the content of his unconscious mind, they would never, ever live long enough, in this world or some other, to work through it all.

Their torment, notwithstanding, I, for one, am grateful for biographical narrative of this calibre. To hell with the definitive.

After p. 300
I apologize in advance for additions to this review. I'm beginning to understand Virginia Woolf's comment that reading always evoked in her a compelling need to write. It turns out that I'm using Goodreads as a reading journal, and it helps because writing has always been the tool I use to come to know and clarify what I think.

In any case, I feeling much less generous and accommodating after 300 pages than I felt after 235. And I will detail what strike me as D&M's egregious, outrageous and extremely annoying violations of any reasonable rules of evidence and argument that I know in preparing this biography. So annoying, in fact, that I'm tempted to formulate and explicate my own set of rules that I will apply in my reading and writing of biography - not that anyone else cares. Once again Goodreads will serve as my notebook. And my writing imposes no obligation on anyone to read.

D&M's violations concern several central issues of Darwin biography: (1) What was the source of his compelling, even obsessive, drive to observe life in every form in every setting accessible to him - and in such obsessive detail? What sustained that drive to the end of his life? (2) From what existing ideas, material did Darwin draw the materials of his theory? And why those particular materials? (3) What "force" sustained his unremitting labor over thirty/forty years to the great injury to his digestive tract? (4) Why did he delay publication of even the rudiments, any intimation of his theory for at least twenty years?

So I present these violations here. {Spoiler: I'll be trashing this book - no matter how beautifully D&M package their sins against credible biography.]

[To be continued]

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Read information about the author

Ebook Darwin read Online! Adrian John Desmond (born 1947) is an English writer on the history of science.

He studied physiology at University College, London, and went on to study history of science and vertebrate palaeontology at University College London before researching the history of vertebrate palaeontology at Harvard University, under Stephen Jay Gould. He was awarded a PhD in the area of the Victorian-period context of Darwinian evolution.

Desmond is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Biology Department at University College London.

Reviews of the Darwin


This book will make you shudder, infiltrate, and change your mind about this crazy world.


Strongly recommend


He does not stop applaud author and his works.


He does not stop applaud author and his works.


This book is worth reading!

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