Biophilia – the love of life – encompasses the drive to survive, a sense of kinship with all life forms, and an instinct for beauty. In this unconventional book, Kay Harel uses biophilia as a lens to explore Charles Darwin's life and thought in deeply original ways. In a set of interrelated essays, she considers how the love of life enabled him to see otherwise unseen evolutionary truths.
Harel traces the influence of biophilia on Darwin's views of dogs, facts, thought, emotion, and beauty, informed by little-known material from his private notebooks. She argues that much of what Darwin described, envisioned, and felt was biophilia in action. Closing the book is a profile of Darwin's marriage to Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin, a woman gifted in music and medicine who shared her husband's love of life.
Harel's meditative, playful, and lyrical musings draw on the tools of varied disciplines – aesthetics, astronomy, biology, evolutionary theory, history of science, philosophy, psychiatry, and more – while remaining unbounded by any particular one. Taking unexpected paths to recast a figure we thought we knew, this book offers readers a different Darwin: a man full of love, joy, awe, humility, curiosity, and a zest for living.
1. A Study in Biophilia
2. It’s Dogged as Does It
3. The Glories and Limits of Facts
4. The Dance of Plants, the Roots of Mind
5. The Varieties of Passionate Experience
6. Beauty Is Life, Life Beauty
7. The One Great Love of Two True Minds
Kay Harel is a writer who holds MAs in science journalism from New York University and in English from the CUNY Graduate Center. She has published essays on Darwin as well as on figures such as William James, Edward Lear, and Wallace Stevens in Southwest Review, The Wallace Stevens Journal, and Sexuality and Culture.
"A playful, erudite, and fresh take on the emotional and imaginative dimensions of Darwin's work, probing the many connections between his family relationships and the spirit of wonder with which he observed relationships in the living world."
– Ruth Padel, author of Darwin: A Life in Poems
"This is a joyful book. Instead of dwelling on the role of competition and extinction in Darwin's theory, as is so often done, Kay Harel emphasizes that love of life in all its varieties is crucial to Darwin's thinking and practice. The result is a deeply sympathetic study."
– Gillian Beer, author of Darwin's Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot, and Nineteenth-Century Fiction
"[A] mighty debut. Harel's lyrical musings delight, and they make for an original approach to a familiar topic. The science- and literary-minded alike will relish this thoughtful collection."
– Publishers Weekly
"A wonderful holistic understanding of Charles Darwin's life and his own evolution. Recommended for fans of biologist/writer E. O. Wilson."
– Library Journal
"Gentle but stirring essays. [Kay] Harel's focus on the confluences of Darwin's life rather than its conflicts offers a refreshing take on his legacy."
– Scientific American