Darwin's Ghosts

Darwin's Ghosts : The Secret History of Evolution

3.71 (1,382 ratings by Goodreads)
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"[An] extraordinarily wide-ranging and engaging book [about] the men who shaped the work of Charles Darwin . . . a book that enriches our understanding of how the struggle to think new thoughts is shared across time and space and people."--"The Sunday Telegraph" (London)
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.
Praise for "Darwin's Ghosts"
"Absorbing . . . Stott captures the breathless excitement of an investigation on the cusp of the unknown. . . . A lively, original book."--"The New York Times Book Review"
"Stott's research is broad and unerring; her book is wonderful. . . . An exhilarating romp through 2,000 years of fascinating scientific history."--"Nature"
"Stott brings Darwin himself to life. . . . [She] writes with a novelist's flair. . . . Darwin and the 'ghosts' so richly described in Ms. Stott's enjoyable book are the descendants of Aristotle and Bacon and the ancestors of today's scientists."--"The Wall Street Journal"
"Riveting . . . Stott has done a wonderful job in showing just how many extraordinary people had speculated on where we came from before the great theorist dispelled all doubts."--"The Guardian "(U.K.)
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Product details

  • Hardback | 396 pages
  • 164 x 236 x 36mm | 721.21g
  • Random House Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • black & white illustrations
  • 1400069378
  • 9781400069378
  • 332,243

Review quote

"Charles Darwin provided the mechanism for the evolution of the exquisite adaptations found in plants and animals, but the awareness that species can change had been growing long before him. With wonderful clarity Rebecca Stott traces how ideas about biological evolution themselves evolved in the minds of great biologists from Aristotle onward. Darwin would have loved this brilliant book--and so do I."--Sir Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London
"Clever, compassionate, and compellingly written, "Darwin's Ghosts "interweaves history and science to enchanting effect. The evolution of the theory of evolution is a brilliant idea for a book, and Rebecca Stott has realized it wonderfully."--Tom Holland, author of "Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic"
"From Aristotle onward, evolutionists have--thank God--always been a quarrelsome lot, and not much has changed. Rebecca Stott shows how dispute, prejudice, and rage have accompanied their science from the very beginning. "Darwin's Ghosts" is a gripping history of the history of life and of those who have studied it, with plenty of lessons for today--perhaps for today's biologists most of all."--Steve Jones, author of "Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated"
"The concept of evolution was not created fully formed and placed in the garden one day for our delight and terror but, as Rebecca Stott demonstrates in her inspiring book, evolved as much as we did. "Darwin's Ghosts" is a beautiful tribute to the buried tradition of curious, courageous observers who, before Darwin explained "how" evolution worked, witnessed the mutability of species for themselves and recorded what they saw."--Jonathan Rosen, author of "The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature"
"A lively account of the 'pathfinders, iconoclasts, and innovators' who were Darwin's spiritual kin . . . Stott masterfully shows how Darwin, by discovering the mechanism of natural sel
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About Rebecca Stott

Rebecca Stott is a professor of English literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia and an affiliated scholar at the department of the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University. She is the author of several books, including "Darwin and the Barnacle "and the novels "Ghostwalk" and "The Coral Thief." She lives in Cambridge, England.
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Rating details

1,382 ratings
3.71 out of 5 stars
5 21% (296)
4 40% (553)
3 29% (399)
2 8% (105)
1 2% (29)
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