Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Book Review: Darwin’s Origin of Species, by Janet Browne

In her newest Darwin Biography, Janet Browne gives readers a brief overview of the man who thought he’d be a clergyman ended up bringing the idea of evolution by means of natural selection to the masses. The book is almost like a pocket-guide to Darwin – ringing in at a mere 153 pages, it’s a swift read. Janet Browne is clearly a master Darwin scholar. In order to trim down her previous lengthy biographies of him, she has to know what’s essential and what details can be cut. The book serves as a great introduction to the man (Darwin) and the theory (evolution by means of natural selection). Anyone who wants more information would likely turn to Browne’s other Darwin biographies, which are much longer and cover in greater detail the Victorian intellectual environment in which the Origin was published. Browne’s book is – quite naturally – fairly Darwin-centric. Along these lines, my main critique of Browne’s biography is the inclusion of Chapter 5, Legacy. I think that Browne should’ve used the 30-plus pages to include more detail in the chapters on Darwin’s life prior to publication and during the “Origin” years. It seems like early chapters were a little too dense and rushed, and these chapters might’ve benefited from more space. All in all, Browne wrote a concise introduction to Darwin and his theory that proves to be a great starting point for readers who don’t know much about the man who changed the way we think.


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