Sunday, 21 October 2012

CREATION: DARWIN, HIS DAUGHTER AND HUMAN EVOLUTION by Randal Keynes


After his round the world voyage on the Beagle, Charles Darwin spent the next forty years in his suburban home with his family, and it was there that he did the real intellectual work that made him famous and changed the way we see the world. CREATION tells the story of this period.

The Darwin family was close and loving, and much of the appeal of the book lies in an account of their ordinary lives. Darwin is thrilled by the birth of his first child, writing to a friend in the manner of all new parents: “He is a prodigy of beauty and intellect. He is so charming that I cannot pretend to any modesty. I defy anybody to flatter us on our baby, for I defy anyone to say anything in its praise, of which we are not fully conscious.” However, he also takes the opportunity to examine genetic inheritance in action: he was “always anxious to observe accurately the expression of a crying child . . . though his sympathy with the grief often spoiled his observation.”

Darwin spent many years studying barnacles, in his study, and one of his sons “ .. . when they went one day to play with the Lubbock children at High Elms, asked where Sir John (the father) did his barnacles” The nanny, Brodie, famously once said “it was a pity Mr Darwin had not something to do like Mr Thackeray (the author). She had seen him watching an ant heap for a whole hour” Darwin’s great love of his subject, be it barnacles, ants, or other, shines through the book. He comments charmingly: “I am at present red-hot with spiders; they are very interesting, and if I am not mistaken, I have already taken some new genera”

Darwin’s oldest daughter, Annie, dies of ‘fever’ (probably TB) at the age of ten. This death was particularly important in disabusing Darwin of a belief in a benevolent god, and gave him more impetus to pursue his ‘godless’ view of evolution.

Interestingly, Darwin had ten children. Or to be more accurate, his poor wife had ten children. The last eight were back to back in twelve years, making her life a
“treadmill of pregnancy, delivery, suckling, weaning and waiting for the next conception. After bearing her fifth child, she wondered if she might have 'the luck to escape having another soon,' but Charles did not seem to have appreciated her feelings. She was pregnant with the sixth a few months later."
This is really, really, unattractively Taliban of Darwin. Mrs Darwin must have been totally psyched to menopause.

I confess, I didn’t quite finish this book. It got a bit boring and blah-blah-blah towards the end. The author is the great grandchild of Darwin, and this is his only book, and it shows. I suspect I'd much rather read a book by someone who came to Darwin through great love, than through luck and inheritance. This is why I like Paris Hilton. She could just have relied on her family money, but she went ahead and at least she made something of herself, even if that something is sort of horrifying.




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