Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution

Rebecca Stott, Author
Rebecca Stott. Spiegel & Grau, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6937-8
Downloadable Audio - 978-0-449-01095-2
Hardcover - 383 pages - 978-1-4088-0908-2
Compact Disc - 11 pages - 978-0-449-01094-5
Book - 282 pages - 978-0-679-60413-6
Hardcover - 383 pages - 978-1-4088-3101-4
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-8129-8170-4
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After being chastised for ignoring those who contemplated evolutionary ideas before he published On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin added a preface entitled “An Historical Sketch” to the third edition of his great work. But the piece was not much more than an outline with very little detail. Stott (The Coral Thief), a professor of English literature and writing at the University of East Anglia, explores some of the ground that Darwin prepared. She focuses on some of those whom Darwin recognized, providing mini-biographies. These include Aristotle, the ninth-century Islamic polymath al-Jahiz, Leonardo da Vinci, and Alfred Russel Wallace. Stott does a superb job of setting the scene for her protagonists, whether on the island of Lesbos, 18th-century Cairo, or revolutionary Paris. But her real strength lies in intellectual history. She demonstrates conclusively that evolutionary ideas were circulating among intellectuals for many centuries and that, for most of that time, those who promoted these ideas found themselves under attack by religious and political leaders. Darwin’s scientific breakthrough, therefore, did not occur in a vacuum, but rather provided the most fully conceptualized theory. Stott has produced a colorful, skillfully written, and thoughtful examination of the evolution of one of our most important scientific theories. Illus. Agent: Faith Evans, Faith Evans Associates (U.K.). (June)
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