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Darwin's Armada: Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  358 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A group portrait of the three British voyagers who became fierce defenders of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Award-winning cultural historian Iain McCalman tells the stories of Charles Darwin and his most vocal supporters and colleagues: Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, and Alfred Wallace. Beginning with the somber morning of April 26, 1882—the day of Darwin’s funeral—Darwin’s
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published August 17th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2009)
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4.20  · 
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 ·  358 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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I am always in for the ride with books about early 19th Century scientists, whether it's the dinosaur hunters or the batshit crazy naturalists who went on 5 year long voyages documenting penguins and drying plants. Which the four men in this book are. Thoroughly enjoyable read, feels like a thriller at points, detailing the lives, voyages and subsequent publications and debates of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Alfred Wallace and Joseph Hooker, the last three being his most trusted friends, thos ...more
Darwin's Armada, is a marvelous narrative of the lives of four men: Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Joseph Hooker and Alfred Wallace.

Iain McCalman offers not an insight or analysis of the theory of evolution per se, but instead he gives us the fascinating history behind these great pioneer scientists in which you will delight yourself with exciting vivid experiences during their voyages, their struggles, their emotions and feelings as well as the invaluable friendship that eventually formed among
Laura HP
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book covers the voyages of four great naturalists: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Russell Wallace. The book demonstrates how their travel experiences and backgrounds all tied together in the ensuing battle over Darwin's ideas in the Origin of Species (all of them were fierce defenders of the book). It is an eminently readable book - a page-turner! Each of their stories is gripping in its own way, and the book does an excellent job of getting you invested in their li ...more
Marian Willeke
The poignant experiences of the four natural historians who brought about the publication and battle for evolution in Victorian science is the crux of the book, ending with how the four met and the intertwining of their lives through to their successful ends. The key elements for me were the political maneuverings of presenting evolution to the scientific community as well as the climax of Darwin's late publication against Wallace's insights to the central theory of evolution that threatened Dar ...more
Pablo Flores
Aug 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked how the stories of these men (Darwin, Hooker, Huxley, Wallace) were told in this book. Most of it is basically the biographies of four men, each younger than the previous one. Although these contain many details of their everyday life, each one is mainly a story of travel and exploration in the South Seas or the tropics. These travels come to their end as the four members of the "Armada" join, back in Britain, to discuss and defend the theory of evolution and to ascend in the este ...more
Jim Dellit
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014-read
I liked this book very much: it was a gift perfectly matched to my reading preference and current interests. The 'Armada' metaphor works well to capture both the influence of the sea journeying of the four main scientist protagonists (Darwin, Hooker, Huxley and the heroic Wallace), as well as their co-joined war on the science deniers of their day. It is pertinent to be reminded of how young these scientists were - in their early 20's - when they adventured into unknown environments and privatio ...more
Jan 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
slow read for me. well written, interesting look at science in the 19th century.
Dec 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
I am fascinated by Darwin's life
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent story — well-written, with convincing portraits of many characters, and simultaneously detailed and well-paced. The story of Darwin’s and other scientist’s explorations, disappointments, and real-world struggles in the hierarchical world of Victorian England was really compelling and made their achievements all the more impressive because of the context. The scientists other than Darwin are not household names, but the book described their significant work and how all of the parts c ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
I loved this book! Biography in general is so hit an miss in my experience. It is so hard to get a writer to bring in an emotional tug while sticking to facts and I really felt this author pulled this off. I had a bit of a hard time with the first half as the characters skipped around and it took some time to build the connections but by the second half he really hits you with the emotional ties of these men, and the scope of the work they were trying to achieve. I gained a huge appreciation for ...more
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thoroughly enjoyed reading about Darwin, Huxley, Hooker and Wallace. Brilliant minds discovering new scientific theories, exploring exotic lands on sometimes flimsy wooden ships, the hardships, illnesses, near death experiences...and leading to Darwin’s theory.
Travis Zuber
Jun 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read... Author takes you on the adventure from discovery to publication to debating... Now if 50% of U.S. would just jump on board
Jan 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
evolution combined with travel writing and south sea exploration. what could be better.
J. D.
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An excellent biographical survey of the early proponents of the now-
ascendant Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.
Apr 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an excellent and informative read!
Jan 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A wonderful insight into the events leading up to the publication of these ideas.
Shawn Callahan
May 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book so much that I even wrote to the author to thank him for it.
Rangarathnam Gopu
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A marvelous tour de force of the lives and travels and scientific contributions of four great English biologist-adventurers, inspired by their German role model, Alexander von Humboldt.

The four are Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Russel Wallace. All of them took risky voyages across the sea, to places that scientists had rarely visited before, saw Life in mind-boggling variety with astute eyes, formed who new theories and massive collections of specimens, and changed biol
Darwin's Armada, by historian Iain McCalman, is a refreshing portrayal of the development of the theory of evolution over the 50 year span beginning in the early 1830s in Britain. McCalman describes the scientific naval voyages of Charles Darwin on the Beagle in the Southern Hemisphere(1831-36), and his great supporters who followed in this footsteps: Joseph Hooker, botanist (1839-43), Thomas Huxley, biologist (1846-50), and Alfred Wallace, zoogeographer (1844-66), who focussed his inquiries to ...more
Mark V
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading this book minutes ago, and i must say that i want to read it again. It first chronicles the individual paths of darwin, hooker, huxley, and wallace on their voyages and finishes with their teamed battle against the established order of clerical creationists in the scientific community unwilling to accept any science that is contrary to their god. I wanted to give it a reread because you don't really have an appreciation of who these individuals are until they battle for t ...more
Bill Leach
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book examines Darwin's voyage on the Beagle, his work at Down House and the events around publication of his book "On the Origin of Species". What makes this book particularly interesting is McCalman's treatment of Hooker, Huxley and Wallace. The early life and travels of each are described.

Joseph Hooker traveled with Captain James Clark Ross, a well-known polar explorer, aboard the Erebus and Terror to set up magnetic observatories. A better understanding of the earth's magnetic field was
Peter Matthews
May 29, 2012 rated it really liked it

This is a stimulating view of what it took to be a scientist in the nineteenth century. By dint of hard physical labour, acute observation and a very accurate summary of what is meant by "survival of the fittest" Professor McCalman describes the characteristics of the great observing naturalists who, along with Charles Darwin himself did for the biological sciences what Isacc Newton, Hooke and Boyle had done for the physical sciences two hundred years before. They based their conclusions not o
Jun 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Everyone knows about Darwin's travels on the Beagle (don't they?), some know about Alfred Russel Wallace's travels in the Amazon and IndoPacific (leading him to the same theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, as well as pioneering studies of biogeography, etc.), but few know about the Southern Ocean Voyages of their contemporaries, Joseph Hooker and Thomas Huxley, helping them make their start in Natural History.

The author provides details about their early lives and travels, and suggests t
Gary Bryant
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book covering the history of 4 important voyages by 4 men: Darwin, who developed the theory of evolution; Wallace, who independently came up with some of the key concepts and collected important evidence for it; Huxley, one of the great scientists of the age who was the chief public supporter and defender of Darwin; and Hooker, who conducted vital research during his travels, and became a leading light in supporting Darwin and Wallace. The book mixes details about the science and trava ...more
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read more than 50 books this year, and I reckon this is the one I enjoyed the most so far. McCalman understands the importance of story, and draws you in without speculating beyond what the record could tell you.
The book's narrative covers four mid-19th century sea voyages, and the scientific establishment in England. But the story is about how extraordinary experiences create relationships; about the impact of class, wealth and education on our lives, and the cominjg-of-age of four very di
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: intelligent people, enquiring minds
This is a fascinating book for those who appreciate the work of pioneers in science. This book shows many of the people who worked towards ideas that opened up our knowledge of evolution.
The times when this science was being discovered were both wonderful and dreadful. If James Cook hadn't shown how to alleviate scurvy, long voyages of science would have been at best dangerous, at worst, deadly.
This book addresses the early years of evolutionary theory, reminding us of the background to it's fo
Dec 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Loved this history, especially the campaign waged by Darwin's fellow scientists for acceptance of an evidence- based theory of why and how we are here. This goes perfectly with The Age of Wonder. These two books are my faves right now. The singularity of focus that drove the lives of these men and women and their need to figure out the evidence and it's meaning is very, very impressive and inspiring. Science is all about being open to new questions and never building a bunker from which to defen ...more
Mar 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
I thoroughly enjoyed the book: informed me in areas of my ignorance; a series of adventure stories; reaffirmed my view of Victorians as incredibly energetic. I was really unaware of the role of Wallace, et. al., along with Darwin, in the battle to document the theories of evolution. These were strong people influenced to fight as if in a war - one they intended to fight until victory. They took on the church-state power of the powerful British Empire, and won. It makes the residual evolutionary ...more
Talha Khan
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Provides useful insights into the experiences that led Charles Darwin to develop the theory of evolution as we know it today.

Highlights the importance of the camaraderie between Thomas Huxley, Joseph Hooker and Charles Darwin, without which the theory could not have survived the onslaught it received from the scientific establishment in Victorian Britain..

The book also sheds light on the amazing work and indomitable spirit & work ethic of the co-founder of the theory of evolution, the less
Jul 07, 2014 rated it liked it
I found this to be an easy and informative read. I had not realized the degree of organization among Hooker, Huxley, Wallace, and Darwin in the defense of natural history and academic liberalism. At first I thought this was a somewhat exaggerated interpretation of history, but the historical reality of the "X-club" makes the concept concrete. The subsequent long-term ramifications of these activities included the way Kew RBG came to be administered and the reputation of the journal "Nature." Ver ...more
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Iain McCalman is an award-winning professor at the , where he lives. He has served as president of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and director of the Humanities Research Centre at ANU. He lives in Sydney.