Chris Demer's Reviews > Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution

Darwin's Ghosts by Rebecca Stott
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's review
Aug 28, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: evolution, history-of-science
Read in August, 2012

When Charles Darwin published his "Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection", in 1859, he did not include a preface or acknowledgement of his intellectual predecessors in the field of Natural History. He was in a hurry to publish and his health was not good, but he was criticized for it at the time. He included such an acknowledgement in a later edition. This well-written book elaborates on the theories and investigations of many of the philosophers and students of "natural history" (biology, geology, etc)who provided a backdrop for Darwin in the development of his theory. Although some of them are well known (Lamarck, Aristotle, Alfred Russell Wallace and his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin) Other thinkers also contributed greatly to the wealth of information that Darwin drew on in the formulation of his theory. Among them were: Jahiz- who grew up in Basra in the 9th century. A self taught polymath who eventually wrote the extraordinary "Book of Living Beings"; Leonardo da Vinci who questioned everything and scorned supernatural explanation of physical phenomena, Abraham Trembley, Benoit de Maillet, Diderot, the Comte de Buffon and other French intellectuals of the 18th century as well as others.
Although the writings of many set the stage for the formulation of the theory of evolution, it was only Wallace and Darwin who were able to determine the mechanism-natural selection. Material from both men was presented simultaneously to the Linnaean Society in London in 1844.
However, it was Darwin alone whose observations, studies and writings over 20 years provided the detailed accounts and examples that persuaded the thinking public of the truth. Organisms change over time in response to changes in their environment.

I highly recommend this book, especially to students of the history of science.

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