cover image Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker

Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker

A.N. Wilson. Harper, $32.50 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-243349-7

British biographer and novelist Wilson (The Victorians) makes two important claims as he opens this iconoclastic biography: “Darwin was wrong” and “I am not a scientist.” Though Wilson works hard to prove Darwin wrong, his lack of science background and factual errors derail his main thesis. Wilson draws heavily on Michael Denton’s 1985 book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, but omits that this creationist text has been widely debunked. Wilson also makes some shocking claims that would surprise virtually all active biologists: “Mendel’s theory [of heredity],” he writes,” is really lethal to Darwinism,” and molecular genetics was “able to demonstrate the inadequacy of Darwinism as an explanation for the evolutionary process.” Other assertions are so inaccurate that they can’t be attributed to his lack of a science background. For example, Wilson concludes that a 1954 paper by Australian zoologists supports Lamarck’s theory of evolution when the actual paper explicitly states otherwise. Wilson describes Darwin as unwilling to acknowledge his predecessors, yet Darwin did exactly this in the American edition of On the Origin of Species. Darwin is portrayed as a hypochondriac filled with a “towering ambition” who deserved to become “the hero of pigeon-fanciers” rather than the “torch-bearer of the modern branches of life-sciences.” The book’s many errors make it hard to take seriously. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Dec.)