Darwin: Portrait of A Genius: A Book Review
Occasionally, it is possible for an individual to change how people understand the world and thereby unleash forces that ultimately bring about great good or great harm. This however can lead to a certain amount of mythologizing and exaggeration regarding their lives, their work or their intentions. In his most recent book, Darwin, Portrait of a Genius, well-known historian and biographer Paul Johnson provides a fresh look at the life and times of the great naturalist Charles Darwin, and reassesses the significance of his groundbreaking work.
Charles Darwin, a genius born in 1809 in Shropshire, England, believed that inheritance determined a person more than education or environment and fittingly came from a brilliant family. His father and both paternal grandfathers, in the course of a half-century, rose from modest landownership to renown and wealth as medical practitioners, gentlemen scientists who studied the transference of traits from one generation to the next. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was an early evolutionist who hypothesized a “common filament” connecting both plant and animal life that was passed on from parent to offspring. While early on, Charles displayed an aptitude for observation and analysis, he later proved to be an uninspiring and unenthusiastic medical student at Edinburgh.
Charles however formed close relationships with his professors of natural science, one of whom recommended him to be the naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle for its voyage of discovery around the world. Embarking in 1821, Charles spent five years exploring flora and fauna. His astute observations and compelling theories on plant life in South America and coral formation in the Indian Ocean, sent from the deck of the Beagle, popularized him in scientific circles even before his return in 1826, when his father Robert Darwin established him up as a gentleman scientist to pursue his lifelong passion for science. Darwin now more thoroughly analyzed the thousands of samples and innumerable notes he had also collected during his voyage, including 500 stuffed finches from the Galapagos Islands. By the time he married his cousin Emma Wedgewood in 1839, he had roughly formed his theories regarding the process of the evolutionary development of physical traits. However, wary of their controversy, he continued to develop them in private until 1856, when a fellow naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, came to many of the same conclusions. Releasing his groundbreaking work, The Origin of Species, Darwin published only a few months ahead of Wallace and sealed his place as the founder of the theory that would change the study of biology.
Johnson is that rare author who can synthesize the entire life of a great historical figure in under 200 pages of eminently enjoyable prose. Johnson’s brevity necessitates that his work is not exhaustive, but presents the aspects of Darwin’s life that are likely most relevant to Johnson. He succeeds at “de-mythologizing” Darwin by offering a fresh look at his shortcomings as well as his brilliance. He also highlights the challenges that Darwin faced as he applied his biological paradigm to anthropology in his second and far more controversial work, The Descent of Man, arguing effectively that Darwin was a far better scientist than anthropologist. He suggests that Darwin’s clumsy attempts at that discipline lacked the empirical rigor that characterized his previous biological work and left The Descent of Man open to radical interpretation by the new generation of eugenicists and self-styled ‘Social-Darwinists.’ Johnson’s book is a compelling portrait that raises important new interpretations of Darwin and his work for the 21st century.
Get Top Stories Delivered Weekly
Discuss This Article
More Uloop Entertainment Articles
Recent Tufts News Articles
RECENT TUFTS CLASSIFIEDS
GET TOP STORIES DELIVERED WEEKLY
TOP TUFTS NEWS
MOST POPULAR TUFTS NEWS
BROWSE OTHER COLLEGES
- By CollegeBoston CollegeBoston UniversityBrandeis UniversityHarvard UniversityUniversity of Massachusetts-AmherstMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyNortheastern UniversityTufts UniversityClark UniversityUniversity of Massachusetts-LowellUniversity of Massachusetts-BostonWorcester State CollegeBentley CollegeWheaton CollegeMount Holyoke CollegeLesley UniversityHolyoke Community CollegeHampshire CollegeSuffolk UniversityWestfield State CollegeUniversity of Massachusetts DartmouthWilliams CollegeAmerican International CollegeAmherst CollegeAnna Maria CollegeAssumption CollegeBabson CollegeBay Path CollegeBecker CollegeBerklee College of MusicBoston Architectural CollegeBridgewater State CollegeCambridge CollegeElms CollegeCollege of the Holy CrossCurry CollegeDean CollegeEastern Nazarene CollegeEmerson CollegeEmmanuel CollegeEndicott CollegeFisher CollegeFitchburg State CollegeFramingham State CollegeGordon CollegeGordon-Conwell Theological SeminaryLasell CollegeMassachusetts College of Art and DesignMassachusetts College of Liberal ArtsMassachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health ScienceMassachusetts Maritime AcademyMerrimack CollegeMount Ida CollegeNew England School of LawNewbury CollegeNichols CollegeRegis CollegeSalem State CollegeSimmons CollegeSmith CollegeSpringfield CollegeStonehill CollegeThe New England Institute of ArtUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School WorcesterWellesley CollegeWentworth Institute of TechnologyWestern New England CollegeWestfield State CollegeWheelock CollegeWorcester Polytechnic InstituteAndover Newton Theological SchoolBenjamin Franklin Institute of TechnologyBerkshire Community College Bristol Community College Bunker Hill Community College Cape Cod Community CollegeGreenfield Community College Massachusetts Bay Community CollegeMassasoit Community College Middlesex Community College (MA)Mount Wachusett Community CollegeNorth Shore Community College Northern Essex Community CollegeQuinsigamond Community College Springfield Technical Community CollegeAilano School of CosmetologyAlexander AcademyAssabet Valley Regional Technical SchoolBancroft School of Massage TherapyBay State School of TechnologyBentley UniversityBlackstone Valley Vocational Regional School DistrictBlue Hills Regional Technical SchoolBoston Baptist CollegeBoston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis IncBranford Hall Career Institute-Springfield CampusCatherine Hinds Institute of EstheticsCharles H McCann Technical SchoolConway School of Landscape DesignCortiva Institute-BostonDiGrigoli School of CosmetologyDiman Regional Technical InstituteEINE IncEmpire Beauty School-BostonEmpire Beauty School-FraminghamEmpire Beauty School-HyannisEmpire Beauty School-LowellEmpire Beauty School-MaldenEpiscopal Divinity SchoolEverest Institute-BrightonEverest Institute-ChelseaFINE Mortuary CollegeFranklin W Olin College of EngineeringGreater Lowell Technical SchoolHallmark Institute of PhotographyHellenic College-Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of TheologyHenris School of Hair DesignHult International Business SchoolITT Technical Institute-NorwoodITT Technical Institute-WilmingtonJolie Hair and Beauty Academy-LudlowJupiter Beauty AcademyLa Baron Hairdressing Academy-BrocktonLa Baron Hairdressing Academy-New BedfordLe Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-CambridgeLincoln Technical Institute-BrocktonLincoln Technical Institute-SomervilleLowell Academy Hairstyling InstituteMansfield Beauty Schools-QuincyMansfield Beauty Schools-SpringfieldMarinello School of Beauty-NorthamptonMassachusetts General Hospital Dietetic InternshipMassachusetts School of LawMedical Professional InstituteMGH Institute of Health ProfessionsMildred Elley-Pittsfield CampusMillennium Training InstituteMontserrat College of ArtMotoring Technical Training InstituteNational Aviation Academy of New EnglandNational Graduate School of Quality ManagementNew England College of Business and FinanceNew England School of AcupunctureNew England Tractor Trailer Training School of MassachusettsNorth Bennet Street SchoolNorthpoint Bible CollegePope St John XXIII National SeminaryPorter and Chester Institute of CantonPorter and Chester Institute of ChicopeePorter and Chester Institute of WestboroughPorter and Chester Institute of WoburnPortfolio Center - WalthamRob Roy Academy-Fall RiverRob Roy Academy-TauntonSalter College-ChicopeeSalter College-West BoylstonSalter School-New BedfordSchool of the Museum of Fine Arts-BostonShawsheen Valley Regional Vocational Technical SchoolSignature Healthcare Brockton Hospital School of NursingSoutheastern Technical InstituteSouthern Worcester County Regional Voc School DistrictSpa Tech Institute-IpswichSpa Tech Institute-PlymouthThe New England Conservatory of MusicToni & Guy Hairdressing Academy-WorcesterUniversity of Phoenix-MassachusettsUrban College of Boston
- By State
- By City