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By: Keith Thomson
276 pages, 5 b/w illus
What sort of person was the young naturalist who developed an evolutionary idea so logical, so dangerous, that it has dominated biological science for a century and a half? How did the quiet and shy Charles Darwin produce his theory of natural selection when many before him had started down the same path but failed? This book is the first to inquire into the range of influences and ideas, the mentors and rivals, and the formal and informal education that shaped Charles Darwin and prepared him for his remarkable career of scientific achievement. Keith Thomson concentrates on Darwin's early life as a schoolboy, a medical student at Edinburgh, a theology student at Cambridge, and a naturalist aboard the Beagle on its famous five-year voyage.
Closely analyzing Darwin's Autobiography and scientific notebooks, the author draws a fully human portrait of Darwin for the first time: a vastly erudite and powerfully ambitious individual, self-absorbed but lacking self-confidence, hampered as much as helped by family, and sustained by a passion for philosophy and logic. Thomson's account of the birth and maturing of Darwin's brilliant theory is fascinating for the way it reveals both his genius as a scientist and the human foibles and weaknesses with which he mightily struggled.
'It has always irked me that Darwin is known by the iconic image of him as a bearded ancient being, when his world-changing ideas came to him as a virile young man. Happily, this book redresses the balance.' Rowan Hooper, New Scientist 'a readable and very detailed account of Darwin's early years and the influences that shaped him.' Jim Endersby, Sunday Telegraph 'a subtle and scrupulous account of what Darwin learned as a young man... and how this differed from what he was prepared, as an old sage, to admit to having been taught.' Andrew Brown, The New Statesman
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Keith Thomson is professor emeritus of natural history, University of Oxford, and senior research fellow, the American Philosophical Society. He is the author of more than 200 scientific papers and twelve books, including Before Darwin: Reconciling God and Nature, published by Yale University Press.
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