Darwin: A Life in Science, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Today Charles Darwin is regarded as one of the most -- if not themost -- influential scientists of all time.

Yet in his lifetime his radical new intepretation of evolution based on natural selection earned him as much antagonism as it did accolades.

In fact he faced a huge barrage of criticism for his 'heretical' new theories, from those closest to him as well as from the leading scientific and religious thinkers of the day.

John Gribbin and Michael White examine both the scientist and the science, putting one firmly in the context of the other.

Thus they bring us a revealing portrait of a man plagued by illness and personal tragedy, who was nonetheless driven throughout his life to pursue his scientific goals.

At the same time they lucidly explain the enormous impact of his thinking on natural selecton and evolution, bringing the reader up to date in terms of how Darwinism has shaped modern scientific thought.




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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

Well, is it a biography or a historical work? It seems to fall between these categories and ends up being a little unsatisfying as a result. I purchased this to mark the 'Origin' publication 150th anniversary year of 2009, and selected the work on the basis of John Gribben's name, rather than through recommendation or research. As a result, I was pleased with the clarity of the language (which I'd expected on the back of the Gribben authorship) but surprised (in a good way) by the structure and the focus on the intellectual path to the Theory of Natural Selection. The chapter structure divides Darwin's life into fairly discrete chunks, but then picks from that period the salient element that is formative in Darwin's development of the Natural Selection theory and makes it the focus, resulting in a number of forward and backward references. The themed nature of the chapters thus contain overlap, which leads to repetition - particularly obvious in the discussion of the publication of the 'Origin' itself. So, not a straight biography - which I think I'd have found a little dull, as it's not my preferred style of non-fiction work - but more an exploration of the influences that shaped Darwin's development of his theory. Family and lifestyle; friends and rivals; health and emotions; politics and social attitudes are all covered effectively: I was left wanting more detail on some of these but then that might have unbalanced the work, which I felt was just the right length. As it was, mixing the biographical details with the exploration of the struggle by the scientific establishment (being undertaken on a wider front) to supplant the biblical view of creation gave an interesting and detailed view of Darwin's decisive part in that struggle. Learning how Darwin backtracked from the 1st edition 'correct' version to compromise his view in later editions was interesting, as was discovering that his position as a respected geologist prior to making a conversion to being recognised as a biologist before his ideas on Evolution would gain any traction. Particularly stressed in the book is the distinction between the Theory of Evolution - a concept then growing in acceptance, although lacking the theoretical and experimental illustrations to make it wholly accepted - and Darwin's theory, that of Natural Selection. This distinction was something I was well aware of, but for a more general reader this book places this important separation in context, with the Natural Selection theory being in competition with a number of other approaches (e.g. Lamarckism) that had support (often widespread) at the time. It was only Darwin's diligent search for supporting evidence that pursuaded others to fall in line with his ideas, even though the method of inheritance was a potential pitfall that blighted full acceptance and escaped Darwin to the end of his life. Final mention must be made that the book is credited to Michael White as well as John Gribben, and it is just the Gribben name that I am more familiar with. I do not know the extent to which the writing was shared. Also, in relation to the subject of the book, the authors' give due weight to the contribution of Alfred Russel Wallace to the Theory of Natural Selection, referring to him as a co-discoverer, as Darwin himself acknowledged. 'Darwin: A Life in Science' addresses both 'Life' and 'Science' to my satisfaction, but isn't as ultimately satisfying as a dedicated work on either of the themes might be. I learnt a great deal, and think that the book makes a useful and easy read, but I'm not sure that I shouldn't have done that research or looked for recommendations before leaping into the dark.

Review by

I have read so many potted Darwin biographies in the press, especially in this multi anniversary year for Darwin, that I thought I ought to at least attempt to do the job properly and read a full biography as well.What attracted me to this one was the fact that it covers off the science as well as the scientists, and the fact that I knew I enjoyed John Gribbin's work already (he is a co-author).This book was well worth the effort. The shortened biographies in the press tend to exist just to hang someones particular brand of politics on to the man but this book is comprehensive enough to avoid that altogether.One of the greatest lives in science is revealed in all it's vulnerable humanity. Enjoyable, yet still a useful source for future reference with a decent index and further reading list.

Review by

This biography of Darwin was less dry than I feared. I've got a couple of Michael White's other biographies, and I've recently read his biography of C.S. Lewis, and it wasn't a fluke that I enjoyed it. He and his co-author wrote very clearly and engagingly; despite Darwin's less than emotional tendencies, they manage to bring out his character very well, at the same time as discussing his science. (Good companion to this book: the Darwin Song Project CD. Karine Polwart's "We're All Leaving" breaks my heart over and over.)Given that I have a decent level of knowledge re: Darwin's work, genetics more generally, and modern developments concerning the field, I found the scientific detail a little frustrating, because it retrod ground I'm very used to. If you want to approach the idea of evolution through an accessible figure, though, Michael White and John Gribbin did a great job here.My main criticism is the same as for White's biography of Lewis: it isn't chronological, but rather thematic, leading to the problem of repeated information and other such redundancies, and a sense of not being quite sure <I>when</I> in Darwin's life they're actually discussing.