book response: Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott (2012)

Darwin's Ghosts is like a walk through a garden where one stops at the prettiest flowers then flits to other ones down the path. It's enjoyable and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, but it's not strenuous. The sub-title of the book is "The secret history of evolution." I thought I would learn more than I did about Darwin's forerunners, which is not to say I didn't learn, but not as much as I expected. Stott expanded on Darwin's own afterword in his later editions of The Origin of Species, which is included as an appendix in this book, cherry-picking eleven or twelve from his list. Between Aristotle and Wallace, I learned about Jahiz in Baghdad, Leonardo DaVinci, the salons of Paris, a couple odd balls, including a guy in Kentucky. I'm fond of history and biographies, so a series of biographies in a large history, was a delight for me. But with only 400 pages to work in, the depths of the biographies are adequate but not great.

In the end Stott is convinced that Darwin truly was the first to conceive of descent with modification as the first scientifically defensible method of transmutation over the generations. I am intrigued enough by her admiration for Darwin to download a free copy of Origin of Species to my Kindle, to peruse someday. Her writing is good and easy to read. This is an excellent introduction to the topic in the history of evolutionary science, but only a beginning.
 
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