The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

An Intimate Portrait of Charles Darwin and the Making of His Theory of Evolution

Book - 2006
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Baker & Taylor
Traces the twenty-one-year period between Charles Darwin's original idea about natural selection and the publication of "On the Origin of Species," in an account that offers insight into his experiences as a cautious naturalist.

Norton Pub
A fresh look at Darwin's most radical idea, and the mysteriously slow process by which he revealed it.

Evolution, during the early nineteenth century, was an idea in the air. Other thinkers had suggested it, but no one had proposed a cogent explanation for how evolution occurs. Then, in September 1838, a young Englishman named Charles Darwin hit upon the idea that "natural selection" among competing individuals would lead to wondrous adaptations and species diversity. Twenty-one years passed between that epiphany and publication of On the Origin of Species. The human drama and scientific basis of Darwin's twenty-one-year delay constitute a fascinating, tangled tale that elucidates the character of a cautious naturalist who initiated an intellectual revolution.

The Reluctant Mr. Darwin is a book for everyone who has ever wondered about who this man was and what he said. Drawing from Darwin's secret "transmutation" notebooks and his personal letters, David Quammen has sketched a vivid life portrait of the man whose work never ceases to be controversial.

Book News
He did not found a movement or a religion says Montana-based writer of fiction and natural history Quammen, he never assembled a creed of scientific axioms and ascribed his name to them. He was in fact a reclusive biologist who wrote books on some minor and some major topics, made mistakes, and changed his mind. He admits that most of Darwin's writings relate to the unity of all life as reflected in the processes of evolution, but he had nothing to do with Darwinism and its scientific and religious controversies. Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

& Taylor

Traces the twenty-one-year period between Charles Darwin's original idea about natural selection and the publication of On the Origin of Species, in an account that draws on his secret "transmutation" notebooks and personal letters to offer insight into his experiences as a cautious naturalist.

Publisher: New York : Atlas Books/Norton , c2006
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780393059816
Characteristics: 304 p. ; 22 cm


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madame_librarian Jan 20, 2011

Charles Darwin had a big idea and it terrified him. Some say it was so disconcerting to him that his chronic nausea and severe stomach distress was caused by the very thought going public with it. What held him back was the dread of being wrong. He was never satisfied that he had enough proof or had done enough research. With the repeated encouragement of a few scientific lions of the day who felt that he was on the right track, and the looming threat of being beat out of the running by others, Darwin finally published his work in 1859 after 21 years of tweaking his basic idea.
Gleaning material from Darwin’s extensive notebooks and private letters, author Quammen does a fine job in taking us along for the ride as Darwin himself evolves from the young naturalist returning from a five year voyage on the Beagle to the country gentleman-scientist, a reclusive invalid and devoted family man grappling with what will turn out to be a mind boggling shift in natural science. Quammen’s treatment of evolutionary science does not weigh this book down as it might with an author of lesser skill. Here it is deftly explained in a lively, personal style with the just-right humorous touch to bring home a point, and a talent for making a long gone subject seem real and human rather than an iconic, almost godlike personality many of us conjure up when the name Darwin is mentioned.
-Madame LIbrarian

Aug 29, 2009

David Quammen was a guest of PBS's The News Hour on the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species. I'm so glad I heard about his book. Who would have thought it would be such a page turner for me? You are literally on the edge of your seat encouraging this reluctant scientist to get his book to publication. Highly recommended.

Mar 24, 2008

A simply wonderful read, especially for those of us who are not scientists but want to understand the theory of evolution and the process of natural selection. Also offers insight into the man himself.


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