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Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution

3.68  ·  Rating Details ·  1,072 Ratings  ·  177 Reviews
“[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
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published June 12th 2012 by Spiegel & Grau (first published January 1st 2012)
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Aug 22, 2012 Stuart rated it really liked it
Do you love Darwin? You should, really should. I know everyone loves Einstein because he looks so cute in his iconic pictures; his hair makes him seem a bit like a troll doll. Plus his theories seem so brainy and math heavy as to be almost imponderable. But Darwin? He looks so serious in his pictures, like one of the Smith Brothers of cough lozenge fame. And evolution? It isn't mathematical at all. At face value, it's a theory that anyone with observant eyes could have figured out.

But let me tel
Jan 23, 2013 David rated it really liked it
This book describes the lives and discoveries of a number of people who Darwin thought may have had some impact on the theory of evolution. Some of the earliest, such as Aristotle, actually had no concept of evolution. During the 1700's and early 1800's, several people developed ideas about evolution. However, only a couple--most notably Alfred Wallace--developed any concept of the mechanism of natural selection.

It surprised me that Charles Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was also a propon
Jamie Bradway
Jun 21, 2012 Jamie Bradway rated it liked it
There's a very nice intro and using Darwin's acknowledgments from the second edition of 'Origin' was a nice outro, but most of the in-between bits were uneven, sometimes straying from what I understood to be the purpose of the book.

Each of these chapters were to reveal the contributions of the 'transmutationists' who preceded Darwin, often suffering the wrath of The Church in the process. Several of these chapters focus much more on biographical sketch than on scientific thought, however. And so
Nov 02, 2013 Shua rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
I think everyone should be a natural philosopher. Not professionally, of course. No one would be left to build rocket ships and brew seasonal ales for me. I am suggesting an explosion in the number of amateur or hobbyist natural philosophers. I think the world would be a much improved place if more people got lost in the woods, picked through a spade-full of dirt to count all the bugs, or simply looked up at the sky at night and wondered at what they saw.

It's that last bit that is precious to me
Jun 14, 2012 John rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, history
A Superb Examination into the Origins of Darwinian Thought

Rebecca Stott’s “Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution” is a masterful overview of the history of science leading up to Darwin’s discovery of Natural Selection as a primary mechanism for biological evolution. Hers is an especially important account, since she places the work of Darwin and his intellectual forebears within the context of the societies and cultures they inhabited, stretching across a vast gulf of time that begins
Maybe I'm being unfair with three stars; it is quite a fascinating book. However, I had trouble paying attention sometimes. I think it's because the format became tedious for me. The book is essentially a series of chronological mini-biographies of men who paved the way for Darwin to be able to publish his famous book and subsequently become the most famous of them all, but he probably could not have done it without them. I enjoyed learning about all these rather radical groundbreakers, who all ...more
Darwin's Ghosts is a series of colourful and engaging portraits of several naturalists mentioned in Darwin's "Historical Sketch," a prefatory list of acknowledgements that Darwin added to the fourth edition of the Origin, in 1866. The sketch lists all the naturalists whom he credited with having considered, in one way or another, the mutability of species prior to the publication of the Origin. Some were relatively unknown scholars who wrote to Darwin indignantly demanding credit for ideas that ...more
Bob H
Feb 02, 2015 Bob H rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, science
Here are the intellects that preceded Darwin and his Origin of Species. Stung by a criticism that his Origin of Species was not, in effect, original, he would put a "Historical Sketch" in his third edition to show who proceeded him. What this author has done was to investigate all the theories and scholarship that addressed natural diversity, evolution ("transmutation" it was often called), and natural selection. The author found a wider college of thought than the "Historical Sketch" did, from ...more
დარვინის თეორიამ დიდი ცვლილებები გამოიწვია ადამიანის აზროვნებაში. მისი " სახეობათა წარმოშობა" მიიჩნევა ერთ-ერთ ყველაზე მნიშველოვან და გავლენიან წიგნად რომელმაც შეცვალა წარმოდგენები სიცოცხლეზე, სამყაროზე, შეცვალა სოციალური დამოკიდებულებები, იმოქმედა სახელმწიფო წყობილებების ფორმირებებზე და ა.შ.
მაგრამ დარვინის ბუნებრივი გადარჩევა არ აღმოცენებულა აბსოლიტურ სიცარიელეში. დარვინამდე და მისი მოღვაწეობის პარალელურად იყვნენ ადამიანები ვისაც ანალოგიური ან მსგავსი იდეები ქონდათ. იყვნენ ე.წ ტრანსფორმისტები,
Peter Mcloughlin
An artist matters. If Beethoven never existed we would never have had his seventh symphony. However as this book illustrates in science things are very different. If Darwin never existed we would be deprived of his beautiful book Origin of Species but we would definitely still today be talking about the theory of Evolution. Ideas in science are more impersonal than art and don't depend on individual genius but are usually floating around in the culture until someone clever enough comes up with ...more
Sep 11, 2016 Ross rated it it was ok
Charles Darwin and evolution are my most favorite subject. This book started well for some 10 pages, noting the when Darwin was rushed into print with the first edition, he received complaints that he had not acknowledged earlier writers who had pointed out that species had changed over time.
The subject of this book then is who are those earlier writers, The Ghosts.
She then goes into several hundred pages, starting with Aristotle, discussing earlier writers. They did write about animals but not
Jul 24, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
DARWIN’S GHOSTS: The Secret History of Evolution. (2012). Rebecca Stott. ****.
When Darwin was preparing his text for his fourth edition of “The Origin Of Species” for the American market (the first edition that was not pirated), he included a foreward entitled: “An Historical Sketch of the Recent Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species.” His intent in this introduction was to give credit to the men who provided significant work in this field. When he had completed his citations he had a li
Emmanuel Gustin
This account of the achievements (and errors) of evolutionary biologists before Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace highlights the struggle of early scientific observers to understand what they saw. As one commentator put it, "the theory of evolution explains the fact of evolution." Many of the people described in this book understood that both living species and fossils showed evidence that species had changed in a way that made them better adapted to their environment, but they did not ...more
Aug 02, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it
This was an absolutely fascinating book! I was hooked immediately in the preface when the author described her childhood quest for knowledge outside the restrictions of a religious household. Each chapter thereafter is assigned a person of importance who contributed to the theory of evolution, be they naturalists or scientists, culminating with Charles Darwin (who later added an "Historical Sketch" to his famous book to acknowledge his predecessors of thought - proving that their contributions ...more
G Hodges
Mar 04, 2013 G Hodges rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I can’t say I thought this was a worthwhile read. I was1/3 through before I learned something I didn’t already know. I didn’t really get the point of the book. Was it that people were involved in empirical thought before Darwin? Knew that already. Was it to tell us people thought of the evolution concept before Darwin? Knew that already. That Darwin expanded the ideas of others? We knew that. Was it an attempt to put together Darwins intellectual forebears? If so, it was not well realized. In ...more
Marian Willeke
This was a great little walk-thru of the major influences through people and establishments that led to not only the belief of evolution and acceptance of the theory in science starting with Aristotle, but the keystone as to /how/ evolution occurred. While Darwin may not have known about the ancient influences, Stott provided a clear chain of more local influences between decades and cultures that cultivated the path towards the eruption of evolution in the mid-nineteenth century. This book ...more
Feisty Harriet
Sep 08, 2016 Feisty Harriet rated it really liked it
I tend to devour any and all books about Charles Darwin, his theories of evolution and the survival of the fittest, and, in general, the revolutionary era of scientific advancement in which he lived. This book covers the history of Darwin's thoughts, but starting with Aristotle and going right on down to Darwin's grandfather, Darwin's contemporaries, and Darwin himself. Stott spends time detailing scientists and naturalists from around the world and throughout history who have discovered, ...more
D.J. Butler
May 06, 2012 D.J. Butler rated it it was amazing
It's not clear how haunted Darwin was by these other men -- by Stott's account, he seems to have mostly been ignorant of their work.

Slightly off-the-mark title aside, this is a terrific story, written in highly readable narrative prose. It's about Darwin's predecessors (and, in the case of Alfred Wallace at least, the man who almost beat him to the punch). Starting with Aristotle (not an evolutionist, but a close observer of fact in the natural world) and working through Leonardo da Vinci and on
Harry Hemstreet
Sep 30, 2012 Harry Hemstreet rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Less to do about Darwin, more of a tracing of the ideas of evolution and origin of species from the time of Aristotle - the many shoulders that Darwin stood upon to complete his 'Origins'. Amazing how far we have progressed but are still fighting the same prejudices that were fought from the 13th century onward. All of the giants of natural history were in constant fear for their lives and reputations as the church steadfastly defended Genesis - to the point of branding these geniuses heretics. ...more
Inken Purvis
Jan 08, 2014 Inken Purvis rated it it was ok
I have to confess I did not enjoy this book as much I hoped. Whilst the stories and bios of each of the scientists/naturalists listed here are interesting and enjoyable, there is too much extraneous information to hold a reader’s interest for long, never mind the often irrelevant and rather exasperating footnotes to the text that the author provides. I think Ms Stott had excellent motives for writing this book and giving the men (all men!) whose lives she describes their rightful place in the ...more
Nov 05, 2013 Jason rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Although thoroughly researched…ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…and written in great de-…ZZZZZZZZZZZZ…tail, this book never…never really…ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ…never really seems to hold the reader’s attention.

It is easy to surmise that no grand notion, be it academic or artistic, is truly of unique gestation. What Stott had done here, is exhaustively account for all known predecessors of the nearly sainted man of science, Charles Darwin. Although well written, as the aforementioned Zs’ indicate, it is not just the
Aug 03, 2012 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Very interesting and well-written book about all the people in history who had questioned the origin of species before Darwin and how their writings about natural history influenced each other. It also shows how people actually thought or interpreted the origin of species without knowing about natural selection. They often couldn't explain how species evolve so people that read their works were often skeptical of evolution (until Darwin introduced natural selection, of course).
Rachel Hawes
Jul 25, 2013 Rachel Hawes rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2013
Rebecca was my MA mentor + my writing owes a lot to hers even though my subject matter is less serious! It took me a good while to.plough through this + I do prefer her fiction, but it was worth every moment!
James Jaeger
Jul 01, 2012 James Jaeger rated it it was amazing
On of the most intelligent works I've read in a long time. Worth reading a second time.
Mike Sutton
Feb 08, 2015 Mike Sutton rated it did not like it
This review is from: Darwin's Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists by Stott. Rebecca ( 2013 ) Paperback (Paperback)
This is a very compelling read and provides a reasonably good synthesis of the known literature regarding Darwin's precursors. I see other reviewers, on Amazon, of this book, have identified that Stott has just made some things up in 'Darwin's Ghosts'. I can't comment on that with any degree of qualification. But there is a massive concern on my part about this book being pa
Oct 23, 2016 Dee rated it it was amazing
History "Exposed" in an Entertaining Book about Darvin's Predecessors

Rebecca Stott serves up an illuminating view of history with the back story of the struggle to present a scientific view of how we all came to be. I have to confess, my knowledge consisted of Charles Darwin publishing his ideas in "On the Origin of Species." Ms. Stott presents the history of all those who preceded Darwin, scientists who dared to present views on evolution, views which painted them as heretics and purveyors of d
Dec 06, 2016 Dylan rated it really liked it
Engaging, instructive history of a topic that seems to be creeping back to the fore in new forms once again.
Nov 22, 2016 Lara rated it liked it
The breadth and depth of Stott's research is admirable. Unfortunately, the writing quite dry.
Sep 12, 2016 Matt rated it liked it
I was really excited to read this book, and the first concept and first chapters started off greatly. After Darwin publishes his history-making "On the Origin of Species," letters started piling in from across the globe about people pointing out where Darwin failed to give credit to his predecessors who had come up with parts of his breakthrough theory of evolution, or even claims that he had stolen the work. The story of Darwin's reaction to these letters gave me even more respect for this ...more
Apr 09, 2014 Cleo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Soon after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin received an unsettling letter that accused him of taking credit for a theory that had already been discovered by others. Realizing his error of omission, Darwin tried to trace all of the natural philosophers who had laid the groundwork for his theory, but he found that history had already forgotten many of them. Rebecca Stott goes in search of these ghosts, telling the epic story of the discovery of evolution and natural ...more
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Rebecca Stott was born in Cambridge in 1964 and raised in Brighton in a large Plymouth Brethren community. She studied English and Art History at York University and then completed an MA and PhD whilst raising her son, Jacob, born in 1984.

She is the author of several academic books on Victorian literature and culture, two books of non-fiction, including a partial biography of Charles Darwin, and a
More about Rebecca Stott...

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