The New Yorker
“McCalman evokes the physical hardships and social intricacies navigated by his heroes . . . and also the feel of an era when 'adventure and science went hand in hand.'”
The New York Times Book Review
“[McCalman's] narratives are as much bildungsroman as scientific analysis, showing how the four voyagers were steeled and transformed by the demands of the sea and the wondrous unfamiliarity of life on distant shores.”
McCalman has produced an accessible introduction to the lesser-known ocean voyages of Hooker and Huxley, while Wallace's incredible wanderings retain their ability to amaze.
The New York Times
In delightful prose, University of Sydney historian McCalman tells the intertwined stories of Charles Darwin and three younger 19th-century explorers who came together to make the case for evolution and aid its relatively rapid acceptance around the world. The younger three were greatly influenced by Darwin's 1839 description of his travels on the Beagle and wanted to follow suit. McCalman devotes a section to the travels of each: Darwin on the Beagle; botanist Joseph Hooker's journeys around Australia and Antarctica; biologist Thomas Henry Huxley's excursions around Australia and New Guinea; and zoologist Alfred Russel Wallace's years in the Amazon and throughout Southeast Asia. Although there's little that hasn't been told previously, McCalman does a good job of detailing the hardships each suffered while also demonstrating the scientific growth each underwent and explaining how their shared experiences brought them together. Once Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, the other three became his biggest and most public supporters, and their tireless efforts changed Darwin's reputation from being "the Devil's Disciple" to one of England's most respected scientists. 16 pages of color illus.; maps. (Aug. 17)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Sparkling group portrait of the intrepid naturalists who challenged accepted notions about the creation of life and transformed science in the process. Darwin's first book, The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), inspired the other three aspiring young scientists to follow in his footsteps. Joseph Dalton Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace traveled to the South Seas and explored the hinterlands of Asia, Australia and Africa, braving arduous voyages, shipwrecks and tropical disease to gain access to "the richest natural laboratories on the globe." McCalman (Humanities/Univ. of Sydney; The Last Alchemist: Count Cagliostro, Master of Magic in the Age of Reason, 2004, etc.) interweaves a vivid account of their early travels with a lucid depiction of the world-shaping collaboration-the metaphorical "Armada" of the title-that enabled the quartet to successfully take on the class-ridden scientific establishment of its day. Darwin, dubbed "the Admiral" by McCalman, was their unquestioned leader, but the three "captains" in his metaphorical fleet contributed significantly to the theory of natural selection by explaining apparent anomalies in the way that species in neighboring regions diverged. Each collected extensive samples of plant life, insects and animals during his travels. Preserved and sent back to England, these specimens ultimately provided documented evidence of the variation and similarities among species, narrowing down the number of accepted species (a hotly disputed issue at the time). This allowed them to show how variations within each new generation of a given species can lay the basis for the emergence of new species-existing species branch out from a commonancestor as they adapt to new niche environments-providing a crucial element in understanding how natural selection works. Working as a team, Darwin, Hooker, Huxley and Wallace revealed for all to see the "origin, distribution and diversity of life on the planet."An extraordinary true-adventure story, complete with trials, tribulations and moments of exultation.