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Paul Johnson
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biography
Darwin: Portrait of a Genius
 
 
Author
Paul Johnson.
Publisher Penguin  
Format paperback
ISBN 9780147509772
Pages/Publication Date 164/2013
Daedalus Item Code 38946
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The author of Socrates: A Man for Our Times; Jesus: A Biography from a Believer; and Churchill, as well as Modern Times, historian Paul Johnson here looks at one of the most controversial figures of the modern era and finds that he missed opportunities to further his own field. When Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, he forever altered our concept of the world's creation and its ever-changing nature. And while in his biography Johnson praises Darwin's extraordinary skills as a natural scientist and his monumental achievements, he also does not sidestep Darwin's tragic failures as an anthropologist. By applying his theory of natural selection to humans, Johnson argues, Darwin provided a platform for the burgeoning eugenics movement that tormented Western societies in the early 20th century.

"This is a first-rate biography, one that brings Darwin and his ideas into brilliant focus."—History Book Club

"Always provocative, historian Johnson critiques Charles Darwin, whose insight into evolution by natural selection he acknowledges but whose intellectual weaknesses he scores as hindrances to Darwin's achieving more in science. Johnson writes that Darwin was a procrastinator, poor at math, and ignorant of foreign languages. The charges asserted, Johnson raises them at particular points in his narrative of Darwin's life. Darwin's habit of delaying publishing to conduct overly meticulous research, for example, nearly defeated his claim to fame. On the Origin of Species was panicked into print by Darwin's fear of preemption by Alfred Russel Wallace. By Darwin's subsequent publications Johnson is but mildly impressed, partly because some do not hold up well (The Descent of Man) and partly because Darwin pursued tangents at the expense of theorizing a mechanism of heredity, as Gregor Mendel did. This was Darwin's missed opportunity, which delayed the genetics revolution and opened conceptual space for the pernicious doctrines of social Darwinism––so runs Johnson's argument. Characteristically pithy and incisive."—Booklist

 
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