Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists

Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists

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by Rebecca Stott

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Bloomsbury UK
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Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
In recent years public discussion of evolution has been almost exclusively presented as a debate between the science of natural selection and the pseudo-science of intelligent design. Gone are the days, not so long ago, when Stephen Jay Gould could romp gleefully through almost any era of civilization's history and pluck some connection to Darwin's Origin. Rebecca Stott has assembled within the pages of Darwin's Ghosts more than a dozen vignettes of the famous and not-so-famous of Darwin's intellectual predecessors. She reaches as far back as the foundational explorations of Aristotle right up to Darwin's time with Alfred Wallace; and, geographically, from the middle eastern Arab scholar Al-Jahiz in Iraq to the American scientist Halderman in Boston. Along the way she provides lively portraits of Leonardo, Palissy, Trembly, Maillet, Diderot, Whitehurst, Erasmus Darwin, Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Lamarck, Buffon, Grant, Chambers, and Mathews along with other passing commentaries. The ghost story begins with a letter that Darwin received from a professor at Oxford, Baden Powell, just one month after publication of Origin. Unlike many others, Powell was not attacking Darwin's theory - he was taking Darwin to task for his failure to properly acknowledge his predecessors. Powell was absolutely right. Stott is too kind to Darwin in recounting his response. It took Darwin 6 years to write 8 mousey, self-serving pages of historical background - stuck on as an appendix to the 4th edition of Origin. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion (especially in light of his handling of Alfred Wallace's famous letter of 1848) that Darwin, spoiled and privileged, was so convinced of the intellectual uniqueness of his theory of natural selection that it would have never dawned on him to accept that his ideas were part of a continuum. Darwin's Ghosts sports long and thorough, annotated notes and an extensive bibliography as well Darwin's original Appendix to the 4th edition of Origin - An Historical Sketch of the Recent Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species. This is an outstanding and welcome contribution to the literature on the historical development of the theory of evolution. It restores a proper balance to discussions of evolutionary theory, clearly demonstrating that Darwin, like Newton, brilliant scientists though they were, both "stood on the shoulders of giants." Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University
RobbieBobby44 More than 1 year ago
Devoting each chapter to a particular individual or group of scientists, intellectuals and philosophers, Rebecca Stott chronicles the inquisitive minds that wondered as to our origins before Darwin's research. One of the best anecdotes involved da Vinci: he was in Milan when some people came down from the mountains with cockle and oyster fossils and asked "how did they get up there?" Leonardo was just as baffled as they were, so he bought some cockles, put them in a long container full of sea water and sand to represent their natural environment and measured the distance they traveled each day. Doubtful of the "knowledge" of priests who cited the biblical flood story as the explanation for sea creatures living on mountaintops, he discovered that the cockles moved no more than eight feet a day. So, in order to cover the few hundred miles from the Adriatic Sea (only slightly farther away than coastal towns like Genoa) to such lofty heights, a cockle would have needed 452 years. Even IF the flood occurred, it didn't last for centuries! Thus da Vinci realized that the mountaintops were, long, long ago, a seabed. Voila! Eureka! You just have to love science for providing us with such information...
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