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Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker –…
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Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (vuoden 2017 painos)

– tekijä: A N Wilson (Tekijä)

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
651312,074 (2.5)2
Charles Darwin: the man who discovered evolution? The man who killed off God? Or a flawed man of his age, part genius, part ruthless careerist who would not acknowledge his debts to other thinkers? In this bold new life - the first single volume biography in twenty-five years - A. N. Wilson, the acclaimed author of The Victorians and God's Funeral, goes in search of the celebrated but contradictory figure Charles Darwin. Darwin was described by his friend and champion, Thomas Huxley, as a 'symbol'. But what did he symbolize? In Wilson's portrait, both sympathetic and critical, Darwin was two men. On the one hand, he was a naturalist of genius, a patient and precise collector and curator who greatly expanded the possibilities of taxonomy and geology. On the other hand, Darwin, a seemingly diffident man who appeared gentle and even lazy, hid a burning ambition to be a universal genius. He longed to have a theory which explained everything. But was Darwin's 1859 master work, On the Origin of Species, really what it seemed, a work about natural history? Or was it in fact a consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes, reassuring them that the selfishness and indifference to the poor were part of nature's grand plan? Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is a radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book which isn't afraid to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy while bringing us closer to the man, his revolutionary idea and the wider Victorian age.… (lisätietoja)
Jäsen:Mitch1
Teoksen nimi:Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker
Kirjailijat:A N Wilson (Tekijä)
Info:John Murray (2017), Edition: 01, 448 pages
Kokoelmat:Oma kirjasto
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Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (tekijä: A. N. Wilson)

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I didn't end up loving this, mostly because I think his logic is flawed and heavily dependent on giving this "maverick" pushback reading of Darwin. What's the opposite of a hagiography? This would be that, not quite a takedown but a very dispassionate look at Darwin as a self-promoter and builder on others' ideas, when it comes to "his" theory of evolution, without giving due credit. I'm going to reserve judgment on his argument until I get to the end, though I don't think it really holds water. But it was interesting in theory, anyway.

Enormously well-researched, to the point where it kind of shows overmuch sometimes—Wilson gives context for his contexts—but I did enjoy the very extensive road map of the science of the day, which is an interest of mine (and why I'm reviewing it in the first place). I did find myself rereading passages often to get all of what Wilson's packing in there. Plus the book was published in the UK first, so there are a lot of Britishisms that make navigating it even more involved.

This is also really making me want to read my copy of The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World, since it sings his praises a lot. ( )
3 ääni lisapeet | Sep 26, 2017 |
I’ve been an evolutionary biologist for nearly half a century and have read hundreds of books about Charles Darwin and his science. If we exclude books written by creationists — a group that A.N. Wilson doesn’t identify with — “Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker” is by far the worst. Appalling in its sloppy arguments and unrelenting and unwarranted negativity, its most infuriating flaw is its abysmal failure to get the most basic facts right. It’s a grossly inaccurate and partisan attack on both Darwin and evolution.
 
This book is the founding volume of the Fake News School of Science Writing. It has strict rules: if a fact is inconvenient, ignore it. If it fits, exaggerate, and when fact is lacking use your imagination. Ad hominem always works, so that we learn that Darwin was a habitual liar — damned in his own words, for as a child he told a friend that he could make different coloured flowers by watering them with dyes: this, he later admitted, was “a monstrous fable”.
. . .
But what about his ideas? Here, Wilson seems to glory in using his talent to be wrong, wrong and wrong again on almost every scientific topic. In the classic mould of the contrarian, he despises anything said by mainstream biology in favour of marginal and sometimes preposterous theories.
lisäsi jimroberts | muokkaaThe Sunday Times, Steve Jones (maksullinen sivusto) (Sep 10, 2017)
 
First, let’s take the science. Wilson concedes with a smirk that Darwin “was among the foremost experts on the earthworm” but not much else. Specifically, the big picture stuff was beyond him, which is why he gobbled up other people’s theories about evolution, including those of his grandfather Dr Erasmus Darwin, and then passed them off as his own. Indeed, Darwin-as-plagiarist is one of the chief poison darts in Wilson’s argument. What actually happened, of course, was that Darwin absorbed the hints and hypotheses of an earlier generation of science writers, including those of his grandfather, and embarked on a painstaking programme of data-gathering that allowed him to substantiate what had previously been merely a widely held hunch. That there remained gaps, dead ends and errors in his narrative account of how life unfolded on earth over multi-millennia was something Darwin was always quick to acknowledge. It was in response to the questions and corrections that flooded into Down House from around the world that he continued to modify his arguments. This, one might think, is what scientists do, especially ones who are committed to the concept of evolution, the slow adjustments of shape and form over time. For Wilson, however, Darwin’s constant need to revise his published work is evidence of nothing more than the narcissist’s terror of being caught in the wrong.
...
Most beastly of all, though, is Wilson’s almost-claim that Darwin was secretly sympathetic to slavery. By a series of elisions as slithery as any he ascribes to his subject, he manages to suggest that, if forced to answer the question posed by the enchained black man on the famous abolitionist medallion, “Am I not a man and a brother?”, Darwin “could” have answered “in the negative”. The shock value comes from the fact that the medallion, which did so much to turn ordinary Britons against slavery in the 1790s, was made by Darwin’s grandfather, the potter Josiah Wedgwood.

It turns out that Wilson has no evidence for this egregious slur. All he can muster is the whiskery argument that, because Darwin saw black and brown people (not to mention Jews, Slavs, Celts and anyone who didn’t come from his native belt of central England) as lesser, he was a proto-eugenicist. What he actually was, however, was an Englishman with the usual prejudices of his time. To blame Darwin for being racist is like accusing Freud of not being a feminist, which is to say both blindingly obvious and slightly beside the point.
 
By the false lights of Wilson’s selectively tutored imagination - and egged on and seduced by a theory whose outward simplicity invites, siren-like, the commentaries of those least qualified to do so - the foundations of modern biological science are unsound, and “Darwin was wrong”. Not content with damning his evolutionary theory, Wilson proceeds to transform the charming, self-effacing, beetle-crazy and endearing gentleman naturalist into a ruthless egomaniac whose evolutionary theory was retrofitted to defend an unwholesome ideology and furnish a mandate for the excesses of Victorian materialism.
...
The inadequate evidence marshalled by Wilson to support his contentious assertions, purloined from the pages of popular science books, rehashing tired arguments as if they were a new revelation, is largely blind to the extensive and irrefutable scientific insights of molecular genetics.
 
Wilson’s book contains numerous and serious factual errors ... Footnotes lead to incorrect references and many dates are quite wrong. It’s hard to see how any care for either historical or scientific accuracy could result in such a book.

Throughout, Wilson bashes Darwin for supposed arrogance, dishonesty and incompetence and trots out a long line of old anti-Darwin myths: for example, that Darwin stole ideas from Edward Blyth, whom Wilson mistakes for an evolutionist. (This too is borrowed from Eiseley.) Wilson invents and condemns a “towering ambition” Darwin had “to be a universal genius”. And eugenics and Nazi race laws are also blamed (incorrectly) on Darwin.

The book claims to be a “radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book which isn’t afraid to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy”. The result is one of the most unreliable, inaccurate and tendentious anti-Darwin books of recent times.
 
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia

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Charles Darwin: the man who discovered evolution? The man who killed off God? Or a flawed man of his age, part genius, part ruthless careerist who would not acknowledge his debts to other thinkers? In this bold new life - the first single volume biography in twenty-five years - A. N. Wilson, the acclaimed author of The Victorians and God's Funeral, goes in search of the celebrated but contradictory figure Charles Darwin. Darwin was described by his friend and champion, Thomas Huxley, as a 'symbol'. But what did he symbolize? In Wilson's portrait, both sympathetic and critical, Darwin was two men. On the one hand, he was a naturalist of genius, a patient and precise collector and curator who greatly expanded the possibilities of taxonomy and geology. On the other hand, Darwin, a seemingly diffident man who appeared gentle and even lazy, hid a burning ambition to be a universal genius. He longed to have a theory which explained everything. But was Darwin's 1859 master work, On the Origin of Species, really what it seemed, a work about natural history? Or was it in fact a consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes, reassuring them that the selfishness and indifference to the poor were part of nature's grand plan? Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is a radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book which isn't afraid to challenge the Darwinian orthodoxy while bringing us closer to the man, his revolutionary idea and the wider Victorian age.

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