Charles Darwin: The man who discovered evolution? The man who killed off God? Or a flawed man of his age, part genius, part ruthless careerist, who would not acknowledge his debts to other thinkers?
In this first single-volume biography of Charles Darwin in twenty-five years, A. N. Wilson, the acclaimed author of The Victorians and God’s Funeral, goes in search of this celebrated but contradictory figure.
Darwin was described by his friend and champion Thomas Huxley as a symbol. But what did he symbolize? In Wilson’s portrait, both sympathetic and critical, Darwin was two men. On the one hand, a brilliant naturalist, a patient and precise collector and curator who greatly expanded the possibilities of taxonomy and geology. On the other hand, a seemingly diffident man who appeared gentle and even lazy but hid a burning ambition to be a universal genius: he longed to have a theory that explained everything.
But was Darwin’s 1859 masterwork, On the Origin of Species, really what it seemed, a work about natural history? Or was it in fact a consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes, reassuring them that selfishness and indifference to the poor were part of nature’s grand plan?
Charles Darwin is a radical reappraisal of one of the great Victorians, a book that isn’t afraid to challenge Darwinian orthodoxy while bringing us closer to the man, his revolutionary ideas, and the wider Victorian age.