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Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (edition 2012)

by Rebecca Stott

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2062256,890 (3.77)22
Member:mvo62
Title:Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists
Authors:Rebecca Stott
Info:Bloomsbury Publishing (2012), Kindle Edition, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Reference, e-book, Adobe DRM ePub

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Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution by Rebecca Stott

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» See also 22 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Joy's Review: The title's a bit silly, but the book is excellent. Each chapter describes someone who wondered, studied and investigated the 'transmutability' of species. All courageous men- since for most of them the religious powers at the time were (and sadly, often still are) scandalized by such theories and studies. I'd read another of Stott's books any time; she is an excellent non-fiction writer, presenting science history as the stories of individuals asking 'why'. ( )
  konastories | Oct 1, 2013 |
Interesting, but goes a bit too far into "you-are-there" history for my taste (describing what Darwin's study looked like or probably looked like--sure, okay, fine; describing Darwin raising his head as the butler brings in a letter--definitely not okay). ( )
  savoirfaire | Apr 6, 2013 |
An accessible and engaging look at free thinkers and scientists who preceded Darwin with pioneering insights and discoveries into evolution and natural selection beginning with Aristotle. ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
What an interesting book this was. I was familiar with Darwin's work, of course, but really didn't know much about his precursors -- or that there were so many of them! As a non-scientist, I found the information fascinating; and I loved that Stott was able to fit so much data into such (relatively) short and succinct sketches. I was a bit bothered at first by her habit of portraying Darwin (and her other subjects as well) actually "thinking" or "imagining" or "feeling" one thing or another. I suppose it was an attempt to add some immediacy to the work by getting inside their heads -- if so, it wasn't really necessary. But even with that one problem, I still enjoyed the book even more than I expected I would. Definitely recommended to anyone interested in the history of science, although probably more appealing to the non-specialist. ( )
1 vote jlshall | Jan 28, 2013 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
My favorite kind of read is a nonfiction book that is both informative and engaging. Science and history are my two favorite subjects, so when offered the chance to read Rebecca Stott's Darwin's Ghost, the Secret History of Evolution, I took it. Thank you to Librarything's Early Reader program and to the publisher.

Many of us tend to believe great ideas are formed in bubbles; that great thinkers suddenly come up with great ideas. We forget that many ideas build on older ideas. Stott reminds us that Darwin, though brilliant, did not come up with evolution on his own.

Stott's writing style is amazing, and I found myself green with envy within the first chapter. My secret desire is to write an engaging nonfiction book, if only I could write like Stott. She easily draws her readers into the lives of those who came before Darwin. We walk along the Greek shores with Aristotle as he studies ocean life. We learn Leonardo spent a lot time wondering how fossilized sea shells got imbedded into mountain regions. We learn of men who are self taught natural philosophers with varying success. We enter the gardens of the French Natural History Museum the Jardin des Plantes and finish off with Alfred Wallace. Each chapter builds upon the last, giving the us a clear map of how Darwin found his way to the Origins of Species.

If you are like me, always on the lookout for a well written, well researched nonfiction book, look no further than Stott's book. ( )
  Sarij | Dec 30, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
Stott’s history begins with proto-evolutionary thinkers such as Aristotle, the 8th century Muslim writer Jahiz, and Leonardo Da Vinci, and eventually concludes with Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), Jean Baptiste de Lamarck, Robert Chambers, and Alfred Russell Wallace. Common to all of these thinkers was the realization that nature defies most attempts at drawing sharp lines of demarcation.
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A second recurring theme is the lengths to which our heroes frequently went to avoid running afoul of religious authorities. Since evolutionary thinking has been heretical in most times and places, scientists pursuing such investigations were forced to be circumspect in expressing their views.
added by jimroberts | editSkeptic, Jason Rosenhouse (Nov 28, 2012)
 
“Darwin’s Ghosts” unfolds like an enjoyable and informative TV series, each episode devoted to a fascinating character who provides a window into the world of ideas of his time. It doesn’t offer a definitive chronological prehistory of Darwinian ideas, but it does help us see the necessity of bold and ambitious thinking. And, right here, right now, it has additional value. Stott reminds us that even if evolution is currently fought over more brutally in the United States than elsewhere, this fight has a long and stubborn ancestry, one that is by no means peculiarly American or entirely modern.
 
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For Kate and Anna,
and for Dorinda
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Just before Christmas in 1859, only a month after he had finally published On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, Charles Darwin found himself disturbed, even haunted, by the thought of his intellectual predecessors.
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Christmas, 1859. Just one month after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin received an unsettling letter. He had expected criticism; in fact, letters were arriving daily, most expressing outrage and accusations of heresy. But this letter was different. It accused him of failing to acknowledge his predecessors, of taking credit for a theory that had already been discovered by others. Darwin realized that he had made an error in omitting from Origin of Species any mention of his intellectual forebears. Yet when he tried to trace all of the natural philosophers who had laid the groundwork for his theory, he found that history had already forgotten many of them.

Darwin’s Ghosts tells the story of the collective discovery of evolution, from Aristotle, walking the shores of Lesbos with his pupils, to Al-Jahiz, an Arab writer in the first century, from Leonardo da Vinci, searching for fossils in the mine shafts of the Tuscan hills, to Denis Diderot in Paris, exploring the origins of species while under the surveillance of the secret police, and the brilliant naturalists of the Jardin de Plantes, finding evidence for evolutionary change in the natural history collections stolen during the Napoleonic wars. Evolution was not discovered single-handedly, Rebecca Stott argues, contrary to what has become standard lore, but is an idea that emerged over many centuries, advanced by daring individuals across the globe who had the imagination to speculate on nature’s extraordinary ways, and who had the courage to articulate such speculations at a time when to do so was often considered heresy.

With each chapter focusing on an early evolutionary thinker, Darwin’s Ghosts is a fascinating account of a diverse group of individuals who, despite the very real dangers of challenging a system in which everything was presumed to have been created perfectly by God, felt compelled to understand where we came from. Ultimately, Stott demonstrates, ideas—including evolution itself—evolve just as animals and plants do, by intermingling, toppling weaker notions, and developing over stretches of time. Darwin’s Ghosts presents a groundbreaking new theory of an idea that has changed our very understanding of who we are.
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Evolution was not discovered single-handedly, Rebecca Stott argues, contrary to what has become standard lore, but is an idea that emerged over many centuries, advanced by daring individuals across the globe who had the imagination to speculate on nature's extraordinary ways, and who had the courage to articulate such speculations at a time when to do so was often considered heresy.… (more)

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