The Darwin Conspiracy

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"In this new novel, John Darnton transports us to Victorian England and around the world to reveal the secrets of a legendary nineteenth-century figure. Darnton blends the power of fact and the insights of fiction to explore the many mysteries attached to the life and work of Charles Darwin" What led Darwin to the theory of evolution? Why did he wait twenty-two years to write On the Origin of Species? Why was he incapacitated by mysterious illnesses and frightened of travel? Who was his secret rival? These are some of the questions driving
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Overview

"In this new novel, John Darnton transports us to Victorian England and around the world to reveal the secrets of a legendary nineteenth-century figure. Darnton blends the power of fact and the insights of fiction to explore the many mysteries attached to the life and work of Charles Darwin" What led Darwin to the theory of evolution? Why did he wait twenty-two years to write On the Origin of Species? Why was he incapacitated by mysterious illnesses and frightened of travel? Who was his secret rival? These are some of the questions driving Darnton's narrative, which unfolds through three vivid points of view: Darwin's own as he sails around the world aboard the Beagle; his daughter Lizzie's as she strives to understand the guilt and fear that struck her father at the height of his fame; and that of present-day anthropologist Hugh Kellem and Darwin Scholar Beth Dulcimer, whose obsession with Darwin (and with each other) drives them beyond the accepted boundaries of scholarly research. What Hugh and Beth discover - Lizzie's diaries and letters lead them to a hidden chapter of Darwin's autobiography - is a maze of bitter rivalries, petty deceptions, and jealously guarded secrets, at the heart of which lies the birth of the theory of evolution.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Darnton’s latest novel on scientific themes follows Hugh Kellem, an anthropologist whose study of Darwin’s finches leads him to Cambridge, where, listlessly searching through Darwin’s papers for a thesis topic, he stumbles upon a secret diary kept by Darwin’s second daughter, Lizzie. Darnton interweaves Hugh’s investigation with excerpts from Lizzie’s writings and with flashbacks to Darwin’s voyage aboard the Beagle. Both Darwin’s daughter and the modern researcher become obsessed with the twenty-two-year gestation period between the voyage and Darwin’s publication of his theory. The solution to the mystery manages to be not only fussily elaborate but fundamentally simplistic, and it involves too many dark hints and convenient coincidences. Still, Darnton has a good feel for both the Victorian era and the modern scientific milieu.
JoAnn C. Gutin
Clearly, Darnton is a demon researcher. The Galapagos setting is accurate; the layout of Darwin's home in Kent is perfect; the story of the Beagle invitation is exactly as Janet Browne tells it in her riveting biography. Darnton nails nearly every fact, from the length of the Galapagos drought in 1977 to the name of Darwin's butler. What defeats him is the impossibility of making a bad guy out of a great man.
— The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Darwin's theories have been under attack since he first published The Origin of Species in 1859, but this grandly ambitious novel goes a few steps further to intimate that he was a fraud-and a murderer. Told by turns from three perspectives, the story opens in the present on a volcanic outcrop off the coast of Ecuador where Hugh Kellem, a British field researcher, while tracing Darwin's research path, meets Beth Dulcimer, a beautiful scientist rumored to be distantly related to Darwin. A quick shift shows an ambitious young Darwin about to embark on the Beagle. A little further on, Darwin's youngest daughter, Lizzie, enters via her journal entries, written in the 1870s, decades after Darwin's famous five-year voyage. As the three perspectives unfold, Hugh and Beth find themselves trying to solve the same mystery that intrigued Lizzie 130 years earlier: what happened on the "nuit de feu," the night that transformed the confident, robust Darwin into a haunted near-invalid for his remaining years? Stilted dialogue, perfunctory romance and expendable subplots make for a rough voyage, but Darnton (Neanderthal) puts real passion into his historical imaginings and recreations: the revelation of the "true" origin of the theory of evolution is particularly inspired and more than enough to sustain another Darntonian bestseller. Agent, Kathy Robbins. 100,000 first printing. (Sept. 20) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Although he was revered as one of the giants of 19th-century science, Charles Darwin (Origin of Species) was rumored to have stolen much of his theory of evolution from others and refused to give them credit. Darnton (Neanderthal) here examines the life and times of Darwin from three different perspectives. Two contemporary scientists uncover research articles that hint at impropriety in Darwin's work. Darnton then describes how this young man barely made it aboard the H.M.S. Beagle for the voyage that led him to the Galapagos Islands and the finches whose beaks gave him the idea of "natural selection." Finally, Darwin's daughter, Lizzie, presents her impressions of her father in a series of diary entries and letters. It is Lizzie who discovers the unpublished chapter of Darwin's book that brings the "conspiracy" to an exciting and highly plausible conclusion. Three different readers (Bernadette Quigley among them) help to keep the action flowing despite numerous characters, murky subplots, and scientific detail. With a three-year celebration leading up to the February 2009 bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of Origin of Species, this work will be a welcome and popular item for all public libraries. Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Lompoc, CA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Darwin's big secret, finally revealed!It's surprising that someone with as impressive a pedigree as the New York Times' Pulitzer-winning reporter Darnton, who also has a respectable track record in commercial fiction (Mind Catcher, 2002, etc.), didn't do a better job with this novel about Darwin and evolution. The story moves along several parallel lines. The first involves anthropologist Hugh Kellum and toothsome academic Beth Dulcimer, both obsessed with figuring out the central mysteries of Darwin's life. (Why did he wait more than two decades to publish Origin of the Species? Why he was so depressed and guilty-seeming? And so on.) The second narrative follows Darwin himself as he travels on the Beagle and formulates his thesis regarding evolution. A third strand is introduced when Hugh stumbles across a secret diary kept by Darwin's daughter Elizabeth; it helps him and Beth fill in some of the blanks in the naturalist's life. The novel's most riveting pages show the timid Darwin braving the seas, discovering new-found confidence on distant shores and fending off competition from a cartoonishly drawn nemesis who seeks to be the first to popularize the evolution theory. Present-day plot developments are less than enthralling, and Darnton scarcely bothers to develop his characters beyond the barest of sketches. The book bumbles along, hardly exciting but moving speedily enough, until it comes at last to the revelation of the dark secret that has lurked in Darwin's papers...until now. Darnton's not-quite-pulp scientific adventure has the ring of early Michael Crichton, but the final sections are just plain silly, right down to the cliched struggle on a ledge over an active volcano.Reduces one of history's most important scientific discoveries to a mediocre whodunit. First printing of 100,000
From the Publisher
“An entertaining, fast-paced read.” –Los Angeles Times

“Darnton has playfully created and solved several mysteries revolving around events during Charles Darwin’s early voyage on the Beagle.” –The Boston Globe

“Darnton has a good feel for both the Victorian era and the modern scientific milieu.” –The New Yorker

“An elaborate scientific thriller, rich with detail and the pacing of a good murder mystery.” –Winston-Salem Journal

“A fast-paced, intriguing and exciting story.”
The Decatur Daily

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786278749
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 12/28/2005
  • Series: Thorndike Basic Series
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

John Darnton has worked for forty years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He was awarded two George Polk Awards for his coverage of Africa and Eastern Europe, and the Pulitzer Prize for his stories that were smuggled out of Poland during the period of martial law. He is a best-selling author whose previous novels include Neanderthal and The Darwin Conspiracy. He lives in New York.
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Read an Excerpt

The Darwin Conspiracy


By John Darnton

Knopf

Copyright © 2005 John Darnton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-4000-4137-6


Chapter One

Hugh spotted the boat while it was still a dot on the horizon and watched it approach the island, making a wide, white arc. He shaded his eyes but still he had to squint against the shards of reflected light. Already the morning sun had cut through the haze to lay a shimmering sword on the water.

All around him the birds swooped and darted in the cacophonous morning feeding-hundreds of them, screaming swallow-tailed gulls, brown noddies, boobies homing in with fish dangling in their beaks. A frigate circled behind a gull, yanked its tail feathers to open the gullet, then made a corkscrew dive to grab the catch-a flash of acrobatic violence that had long since ceased to amaze him.

The boat appeared to be a panga, but that was odd: supplies weren't due for days. Hugh fixed his stare on the dark silhouette of the driver. He looked like Raoul, the way he leaned into the wind, one arm trailing back on the throttle.

Hugh dropped his canvas tool bag near the mist net and started down. The black rocks were streaked white and gray with guano, which stank in the windless air and made the lava slippery, but he knew the footholds perfectly. The heat pressed down on him.

When he reached the bottom of the cliffside, Raoul was already there. He idled the swaying panga a few feet from the landing rock, a narrow ledge that was washed by an ankle-deep wave every few seconds.

"Amigo," shouted Raoul, grinning behind dark glasses.

"Hey, Cowboy," said Hugh. He coughed to clear his throat-it had been a long time since he had talked to anybody.

Raoul was wearing pressed khaki shorts, a Yankees cap over his thick black hair at a jaunty angle, and a dark blue jersey with the insignia of the Galapagos National Park on the left breast pocket.

"Just stopping by," he said. "What's new?"

"Not much."

"I thought you will be totally crazy by now." His English was almost perfect but sometimes an odd phrasing gave him away.

"No, not totally. But I'm working on it."

"So, how's the ermitano?"

"The what?"

"Ermitano," Raoul repeated. "How do you say that?"

"Hermit."

Raoul nodded and regarded him closely. "So, how're you doing?"

"Fine," lied Hugh.

Raoul looked away.

"I brought two chimbuzos." He gestured with his chin to two water barrels strapped to the mid-seat. "Help me to deliver them."

Hugh leapt into the boat, unstrapped a barrel, and hoisted it over his right shoulder. The weight threw off his balance and he tottered like a drunken sailor and almost fell into the water.

"Not like that," said Raoul. "Put them overboard and shove them to the mat. Then you climb up and pick them up."

The mat, short for "welcome mat," was the nickname the researchers called the rocky ledge. Raoul had hung around them so long, helping out now and then because he admired what they were doing, that he was picking up their lingo.

Hugh finally got both barrels ashore and lugged them up to the beginning of the path. He was dripping with sweat by the time he returned.

"Want to come on shore, stay a while?" he asked. The offer was disingenuous. The water was too deep to anchor-more than eighty feet straight down-and if the panga docked, the waves would smash it against the rocks.

"I can't stay. I just wanted to say hello. How're your crazy birds-getting thirsty, no?"

"The heat's rough on them. Some are dying."

Raoul shook his head. "How many days without rain?" he asked.

"Today is two hundred something, two hundred twenty-five, I think."

Raoul whistled and shook his head again, a fatalistic gesture, and lit a cigarette.

They talked for a while about the study. Raoul was always eager to hear how it was going. He had once said that if he came back to earth a second time that was what he wanted to do-camp out and study birds. Hugh thought that Raoul had no idea what it was really like-the solitude, the fatigue and boredom and endless repetition of extremes, boiling during the day and then at night when the temperature dropped forty degrees, lying in your sleeping bag and shivering so violently you can't go to sleep even though you're exhausted. Anything can sound glamorous until you do it.

"Say," Raoul said lightly, "I hear you're getting company. Two more guys coming out."

"Yeah-so I'm told."

Raoul looked quizzical.

"Sat phone," explained Hugh. "Satellite. I got a call day before yesterday. The thing scared the shit out of me when it rang."

"Do you know them?"

"No, I don't think so. I don't know anybody in the project, really."

"What are their names?"

"I don't know."

"You didn't ask?"

"No."

Raoul paused a moment, then looked at him closely. "Hombre, you okay? You don't look so good."

"No, I'm fine." Pause. "Thanks."

"All that pink skin."

That was a joke. Hugh had been burned and tanned so many times that his skin had turned a leathery brown. His lips were swollen and cracked, despite the Chap Stick, and his eyebrows were bleached blond.

"You think you ready to share this paradise with other people?"

"Sure thing," said Hugh, but his voice sounded uncertain.

Raoul turned and looked out to sea. Far away the dark profile of a ship could be seen moving quickly with a funnel of gulls circling it.

"The Neptune," he said. "More tourists for the Enchanted Isles."

"Whoever thought that one up deserves a medal," said Hugh. He could see by the shadow that crossed Raoul's face that the remark was hurtful. The depth of Equadorean nationalism always amazed him. He smiled, pretending he was joking.

"More work for me." Raoul shrugged. "Well, tengo que trabajar." He flicked his cigarette way off into the water and gave a little wave from the hip. "Ciao."

"Ciao. Thanks for the water."

"Don't drink it all right now." Raoul grinned as he turned the panga, gunned the motor, and pulled out so fast the bow rose up like a surfboard. Hugh stared after him until the boat disappeared behind the island.

He carried the chimbuzos one at a time up the long path that wound up the south face of the volcano and then down past the campsite into the bottom of the crater, where in theory it was a degree or two cooler-but only in theory. On hot days, even here, he had seen the green-footed boobies shifting from one webbed foot to the other on the scorching rocks.

He looked at his watch. Shit. Almost seven o'clock. He had forgotten about the mist net-he was sure he had seen a bird trapped there, maybe two. He had to hurry and free them before they died in the quickening morning heat. Once, months ago, before he got the routine down, he had lost a bird that way. They were surprisingly resilient if you handled them right, but if you made a mistake, like leaving them trapped in the mist net too long, they were as fragile as twigs. That time, he had recorded the death dutifully in the log, without explanation, in a single concocted word: "ornithocide."

At the top of the island it was even hotter. He grabbed his bag and looked at the net. Sure enough, there were two birds, small dark cocoons that rippled as he touched them. He reached in and held one to his chest while he deftly lifted off the black threads so thin they caught the birds in flight. As he untangled the mesh from the feathers he suddenly had a memory: playing badminton as a young boy during long summer evenings, those moments when the plastic bird hurled into the net and had to be carefully extracted.

He now saw the finch's color, black mottled with gray and dusty white. A cactus finch-Geospiza scandens-very common, no surprise there. He held it tightly in his left fist and raised it to look at it. The eyes, deep brown, looked back, and he could feel the tiny heart tickling his palm. He checked the bands-a green and black one on the left leg and a blue one on the right-and identified him in the register. Number ACU-906. A previous researcher had jotted down a nickname, Smooches, in a rounded, girlish American script.

After all this time Hugh still had trouble identifying more than a dozen finches by their nicknames, the ones that hung around the campsite. Spotting them was a point of pride with the researchers, he gathered; they told stories of sitting around the rocks and rattling off the names of thirty or forty at a shot. "You'll get to know them in no time," he had been told at the farewell pep talk by Peter Simons, a legend in the field. "Just stretch out your arm and they'll land on it." That part was true at least. He was pleasantly surprised the first week when he was measuring a small finch and another came to perch on his bare knee and peer at him, its head cocking from one side to the other. At times like that they seemed curious and intelligent. But at other times-like when he forgot to cover the coffeepot and a bird almost dove in and drowned-it was hard not to think of them as stupid.

That was back before Victor left. At first it was a relief to be alone-solitude was what he had been looking for, part of his penitence-but as weeks stretched into months, the loneliness he had sought became almost too much to bear. Then when the rainy season didn't come and the lava island turned into a black frying pan stuck way out in the ocean, at times he actually wondered if he could keep going. But of course he did. He had known he would-in that way at least, in brute staying power, he was strong. It was his psyche that was brittle.

He pulled out a pair of calipers and measured the bird's wing and wrote it in the notebook, tattered over the years and swollen from the rain despite its waterproof cover. The bird froze as he measured its beak-the all-important beak-its length, width, and depth. Since 1973, when Simons and his wife, Agatha, first came here, generations of graduate students had braved the miserable conditions to measure thousands upon thousands of beaks and search for meaning among the minute variations.

Hugh freed the bird and it flew off a few yards and landed on a cactus, shaking its feathers. He recorded the second bird and walked around to the north rim to check the traps. He could tell by looking that none had sprung shut. He went back to the campsite and fixed breakfast, watery scrambled eggs made from powder and weak coffee from used grinds. Then he went to the top of the island again to rest and look out over the blue-green water, choppy with waves from the treacherous currents. He sat in his familiar place-the smooth rocks, already hot, formed a throne that fit his rear. He could see for miles.

Darwin was no fool. He didn't like it here either.

Hugh sometimes talked to himself. Or-even stranger-sometimes he couldn't tell whether he had been thinking the words or saying them aloud. Lately, his interior monologues were becoming oddly disjointed, especially during the long hours when he worked hard under the hot sun. Half thoughts flashed through his mind, phrases repeating themselves over and over, admonitions and observations from himself to himself, sometimes addressed in the second person, such as: If it was Hell you're looking for, buddy, you've come to the right place.

And it had been Hell that he'd looked for, no doubt about that. Even the name of the island-Sin Nombre-had exerted an attraction the moment he heard it.

So how about it? Was he willing to share this place-this paradise, he scoffed to himself, maybe out loud-with other people?

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton Copyright © 2005 by John Darnton.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. We first meet Hugh Kellem while he is conducting research on an island so small and bleak that it is known only as “Sin Nombre,” Spanish for “no name.” Toward the novel’s end—which paradoxically falls 170 years earlier—Darwin will arrive at the same island. At what other points in this novel does Hugh reenact episodes of Darwin’s life? Does Lizzie’s narrative also echo her father’s, or does it anticipate Hugh’s? In what ways does Darnton use his novel’s parallel storylines to build mystery and suspense or deepen the exploration of certain themes? How would this novel be different if it unfolded in a single time period or was told from a single point of view?

2. Darwin came to the Galapagos carrying just one book: Paradise Lost. How does that book, which tells the story of Lucifer’s rebellion and the temptation and fall of man, forecast themes in Darwin’s narrative and in those of Lizzie and Hugh? Is nature this novel’s paradise, and if so, how is it lost? How do you interpret the scene on page 223 that begins with an encounter with giant tortoises and ends with a tableau of their butchery? What are we to make of Darwin’s later outburst: “What a book a Devil’s chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low and horridly cruel works of nature!” [p. 225]?

3. Darwin’s overbearing father almost prevents him from shipping out on the Beagle, but at the last minute he secures his permission. How is he able to do this? In undertaking his epic voyage, is Darwin trying to live up to his father’s expectations or subtly defy them? How are other characters in the novel affected by their fathers? Who succeeds in breaking free of the paternal spell and who succumbs to it?

4. Both Hugh and Lizzie are overshadowed by siblings who are older, seemingly more gifted (Lizzie is known to posterity as “slow”), and more loved. How does this shape their respective characters? How does each adapt to his or her status? Compare Cal’s ambiguous role in Hugh’s expulsion from prep school to Lizzie’s love affair with her sister’s fiancé. Is Darwin’s relationship with McCormick also a form of sibling rivalry? In what ways do the veiled and often unconscious struggles between competing siblings, real or symbolic, replicate the warfare in nature?

5. As a child, Darwin is said to have told fibs, a habit he has since outgrown. How does this detail foreshadow his later actions? When does the adult Darwin first engage in an act of deception? Is he simply defending himself against McCormick’s attempts to undermine him? Does this novel portray Darwin as fundamentally dishonest, or is he someone who becomes dishonest in a moment of weakness and then feels driven to perpetuate his deceptions? Are we meant to see him as evil or simply flawed? How would you compare what Darwin does with Cal’s doctoring of experimental results, Hugh’s theft of Lizzie’s journals, or Lizzie’s subterfuges? What are the consequences of their respective acts of dishonesty?

6. Why does Captain FitzRoy object so violently to natural law and transmutation, the ideas that preceded the theory of evolution? Are Darwin’s discoveries really inimical to religious faith or only to a particular kind of faith, and if they are so heretical why do they become more widely accepted, even in his lifetime? Why do you think evolution is more controversial today than it was thirty or forty years ago? Does Darwin lose faith because of what he apprehends about nature or because of what he learns about his own nature?

7. While Darwin is collecting specimens, FitzRoy describes himself as a “naturalist in reverse” [p. 72], because the Captain proposes to return three he “collected” on an earlier voyage. The specimens are, of course, human beings, the Indians Jemmy Button, Fuegia Basket, and York Minster. What are the consequences of their kidnapping and repatriation? In returning them to their home, FitzRoy is not just being altruistic but undertaking missionary work. Discuss the ways that science and religion intertwine in the course of the voyage and to what ends.

8. As a youngster, Lizzie Darwin seems to have possessed the same traits that made her father an outstanding naturalist. But as a young woman, she has turned to “ferreting out the secrets of others” [p. 61]. What parallels does Darnton draw between Darwin’s pursuit of the inner workings of nature and his daughter’s pursuit of the inner workings of her family? Does Lizzie choose that path because Victorian society barred young women from a career in science? In what other ways is she thwarted by the sexual mores of her time? Can we view her investigation of her family’s secrets as an unconscious protest against her status? What do you make of the fact that she loses her virginity almost immediately after discovering the truth about her father’s past?

9. Among the many things that Darwin dislikes about McCormick is the fact that he is “lower class” [p. 125]. How does class figure in this novel? How does it determine the prejudices and behavior of its characters? How are the cruelties of the English class system mirrored by other systems of inequality and oppression, such as slavery, the subjection of women, or the extermination of Indians? (Of all the novel’s characters, Darwin alone seems singularly insensitive to the fate of Jemmy Button.) In what ways can Darwin’s findings be seen as challenges to the old hierarchies? In what ways can they be seen as justifying human predation and exploitation, which might be explained away in some circles as “survival of the fittest”?

10. On board the Beagle, Jemmy Button is enraptured by what Darwin’s lessons in “sigh-eenz” [p. 99]. Yet following his return to Tierra del Fuego, he rejects both science and his new name. What is responsible for his disillusionment? How do you interpret the note Hugh finds in his hand: “I seen your ships. I seen your cities. I seen your churches. I meet your Queen. Yet you Inglish know life less as we poor Yamana” [p. 155]. Is Jemmy right?

11. While reading Lizzie’s journals, Hugh, who has the benefit of knowing how her life will turn out, feels as if he is “seeing a speeding car and knowing that it is soon to crash. Possessing that knowledge was like being God” [p. 163]. Does reading this novel, so much of which is grounded in fact, place the reader in a similar position? Discuss the appeal of historical fiction and its peculiar tension between the known and the unknown, the factual and the invented.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Not without merit, but not great, either

    First of all, this book IS fiction (!) Not to spoil the plot, it is built around a secret circumstances of Darwin voyage on "Beagle" , related to the development of his theory. The threads of this secret are being discovered ( as parallel story lines) decades later by Darwin's daughter Lizzy, and centuries later by a romantic couple of scientists. So there are clear da-vinci-codish overtones there. Very little of hardcore biology , don't be afraid if it is not your interest. To me, the strongest points of the book are great descriptions of the scene settings, from South America to England. I found the plot itself sort of tepid, pale and not really convincing, even for a fiction . I grade the books as Buy and Keep (BK), Read Library book and Return ( RLR) and Once I Put it Down I Couldn't Pick it Up ( OIPD-ICPU). This one was OIPD-ICPU , maximum weak RLR. Sorry.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2006

    Cheap shots

    I really admire people like Darnton who can figure out a way to make a lot of bucks by smearing the reputation of someone unable to fight back. I guess he operates on the premise that 'the bigger they are, the more bucks that will fall.' Given that Darwin is one of the most highly respected scientists in the history of biology, any one who defames him should be absolutely sure of their facts, and should provide an epilogue to clarify exactly where they strayed beyond known facts into speculation and fiction. Darnton lacks the professionalism to do either. True, he cites several references but nowhere does he identify which references, if any, document his allegations that Darwin stole the idea of natural selection from natives in Terra del Fuego, and from a fellow biologist -- whom he then murdered. I suppose Darnton¿s next book is going to be about how Newton stole the theory of gravity from a tightrope walker or Einstein learned the Theory of Relativity by channeling from space aliens. Darnton even tries convincing readers that Darwin's health must have failed because of intense guilt. He gives no credence to the possibility that Darwin picked up a tropical disease or parasite -- a fate that has ruined the health of many an explorer, even in modern times. After expeditions into Cambodia, one of my biologist colleagues end up with something like Blackwater feaver, involving massive hemorrhaging of his kidneys¿as well as Denge Feaver. Another guy¿s expedition to Borneo was yielded a parasite as thick as his little finger that burrowing its way through his body and face until it emerged from his eye socket. Removing the parasite intact was essential if it broke off in his flesh, it would have rotted in place and killed him. Hence, a month of agony, pulling it out millimeter by millimeter. One can only wonder what little demons Darwin picked up in South America and other exotic locations. Keep in mind that diagnosis 150 yrs ago wasn¿t quite up to modern standards. Indeed, it is only in the past months that investigators confirmed that Beethoven died of lead poisoning, presumably from drinking wine from leaden or leaded-crystal goblets. One can only wonder whether Darwin's remains were preserved and could be subjected to a modern postmortum. For now, I've got to place The Darwin Conspiracy on an even lower scale than DaVinci Code regarding historical veracity. Is it a good read, despite its defects ¿ not unless you are titillated by poor scholarship and cheap shots. S Stringham, PhD

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2006

    Strong, well-written take on Darwin.

    Very good book. It gives the reader both the historical insight to Darwin and The Beagle voyage, while also adding a solid back end story. Definitely pick it up. You can get through it during a good rainy weekend.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2005

    A fine read. A real page turner!

    John Darnton transports the reader to the Galapagos and the tidal shift of biological debate with deft and ease. This is a great book of confrontation--science and religion, fathers and sons, man and myth. If there is any criticism, it is that there was not more pages to turn. Enjoy!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Mortal Darwin

    Highly enjoyable light reading material. Reinforces my view that all famous people are just everyday people like the rest of us. We all have our drama, tragedy, hopes, fears and joys in life. Even the most intelligent person can make mistakes in their personal lives. While most of the book is fiction, it is based off historical events, which shed a new light on Darwin and all of his adventures in life. It has left me with the impression that Darwin found his own gilded cage to be locked in and sing from until the end of time. Fame and fortune cannot undo character, and in some cases bring out the worst of one's character. While Darwin did not become a devil through is life, it sounds like he was never truly a saint either. Just an every day guy trying to find himself. Many good debates on organized religion, theory of Natural Selection and personal growth to delight the reader and hopefully broaden one's logic horizons.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2006

    Great book

    I love this book because there was so many surprises that kept me guessing. I recommend this to anyone who evants to learn about evolution and the man behind it, Charles Darwin.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2011

    This book is OK

    "The Darwin Conspiracy" is an OK book.

    Essentially the two main characters, Beth and Hugh, uncover suprising facts about Darwin and his theory of evolution,

    Although the story itself is well written, the way Darnton presents it is confusing. The book constantly switches between Beth and Hugh's story, Darwins adventures on the Beagle and his daughter Lizzie's journal.

    Hugh also struggles with his brothers death throughout the book. Fortunately this resolves itself by the end.

    Although the story is good the ending is confusing to me and I feel it needs more explaination.
    If you enjoy learning about Darwin or if you like mystery books I would recommend this book for you. If you don't then this book isn't for you.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2007

    People this is a work of fiction

    What you must keep in mind is that this is a fictional tale. It is not 'trashing' anyone's reputation. Many books take facts from everyday life and use them to write entertainment (ie: Dan Brown's the DaVinci Code).

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2006

    Could not put it down!!!!

    I loved this book. In the beginning I thought it was knd of slow moving, but then the pace started to pick up. I could not put this book down. Great read and the way Darton decscibes the travels of the Beagle makes you feel like you are really there. This book put my imagination to work, when trying to picture all of the great places he was describing. Even after reading, I wish there was more, especially the writings from the daughter of Darwin Lizzie or should we call her Bessie? She was a sneeky little thing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2006

    Very Disappointed

    I am horrified that the author of this ¿work¿ would trash Charles Darwin so appallingly. There is neither a forward nor afterword stating that most of the outrageous things he says about Darwin are the product of his imagination. How many people will read this and think that Charles Darwin actually stole his idea of the theory of natural selection from a South American native! And murdered a fellow naturalist to boot! To slander the name of one of the greatest men who ever lived just to make a buck is beyond my comprehension. I was very, very disappointed to say the least.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2005

    Good but not great

    The book stood prospect of being very good had a more plausible circumstance surrounding Mr.McCormick's end been developed.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    interesting look at darwin

    Field anthropologist Hugh Kellem tries to solve several mysteries related to Darwin. Near Ecuador, the British researcher meets scientist Beth Dulcimer, who also seeks to understand why the famous naturalist took over twenty years to release the Origin of the Species and what happened to him that changed him from a confident scientist into a near anxious recluse. Twentyish Darwin spends five years on the Beagle taking copious notes of what he observes on his journey and becomes increasingly confident in his abilities to do his job while a rival tries to usurp his findings. His notes serve as the basis of his classic Origin of Species by Natural Selection released in 1858. In the 1870s Darwin's youngest daughter Lizzie keeps a journal that show her growing concern about her father who seemingly over night changed from a vigorous person into a frightened shadow of himself. Hugh and Beth find Lizzie¿s diaries. --- This interesting tale uses three points of view to tell a fictionalized account (based on known facts) of Darwin. The story opens with Hugh and Beth teaming up as both fixates over learning the mysteries of Darwin and on each other (that common obsession helps). The second (and by far the most interesting and intelligently designed) subplot follows Darwin¿s adventures from drinking with the Captain before leaving, to seasickness, to self-assured individual and finally struggling with a competitor. The final segue focuses on Lizzie¿s diary. Though well written, the present subplot seems unnecessary as it turns the life of Darwin into more of an academic mystery that includes a final shocking twist. While readers will enjoy sailing with Darwin and somewhat Lizzie¿s follow up in his later life, the present pales in comparison. --- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted May 10, 2010

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    Posted December 12, 2009

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2011

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    Posted July 12, 2011

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