Summary and book reviews of Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman

Darwin's Armada

Four Voyages and the Battle for the Theory of Evolution

by Iain McCalman

Darwin's Armada
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2009, 432 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2010, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

Darwin's Armada tells the stories of Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Joseph Hooker and Alfred Wallace, four young amateur naturalists from Britain who voyaged to the southern hemisphere during the first half of the nineteenth century in search of adventure and scientific fame. It charts their thrilling voyages to the strange and beautiful lands of the southern hemisphere that reshaped the young mariners' scientific ideas and led them, on returning to Britain, to befriend fellow voyager Charles Darwin. All three crucially influenced the publication and reception of his Origin of Species in 1859, one of the formative texts of the modern world.

For the first time the Darwinian revolution of ideas is seen as a genuinely collective enterprise and one that had its birth in a series of gripping and human travel adventures. Many of the most urgent ecological and social issues of our times are seen to be prefigured in this compelling story of intellectual discovery.

Prologue:
Darwin's Last Voyage


Oh build your ship of death, oh build it! for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.
D. H. Lawrence, 'The Ship of Death'

Charles Darwin's funeral took place at Westminster Abbey on Wednesday 26 April 1882. Twenty years earlier, the English press had taunted him as 'The Devil's Disciple', the scientist whose theory of evolution had dethroned the divine creator and turned man into the cousin of the monkey. Now the Pall Mall Gazette spoke for all in comparing him to Copernicus and calling him 'the greatest Englishman since Newton'. The more than two thousand mourners at the Abbey made up a Who's Who of the Victorian establishment. So many had applied for admission cards that the undertakers were rattled.

The body had arrived at eight o'clock the evening before, after a horse-drawn journey from the village of Downe, in Kent, accompanied for the sixteen miles by three of Darwin's sons and an icy drizzle. The white oak coffin, bearing ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A must-read for anyone interested in how the theory of evolution developed. It is recommended particularly for those with an interest in the biological sciences, although non-scientific readers will find it very accessible.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (642 words).

Media Reviews

The New Yorker

McCalman evokes the physical hardships and social intricacies navigated by his heroes...and also the feel of an era when 'adventure and science went hand in hand.'

Publishers Weekly

In delightful prose...McCalman does a good job of detailing the hardships...suffered while also demonstrating the scientific growth each underwent.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An extraordinary true-adventure story, complete with trials, tribulations and moments of exultation.

The Guardian (UK)

Rather like Wallace, McCalman knows he is an outsider to mainstream Darwin studies, but he tells his story well. It reads as a combination of Boy's Own travellers' tales stretching from the Amazon to Antarctica, and a scientific adventure as racy as any historical novel.

The Australian

[An] exhilarating take on the collective biography idea applied to Charles Darwin and his fellow adventurers in evolutionary science: Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley and Alfred Wallace.

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Beyond the Book

Evolutionary Ideas Before Darwin
The theory of evolution states that all life is related and has descended from a common ancestor; complex creatures evolve over a long period of time from simpler organisms. Evolution is not concerned with the origin of Earth or of the Universe, but attempts to explain why different living things have developed and diversified since life first appeared on Earth.

Evolutionary thought had been around for centuries before Charles Darwin's time; the first person known to have speculated on the topic was the Greek philosopher Anaximander in the 6th century BCE. Similar pre-evolutionary ideas appeared across Greece, Rome, China, and throughout the Arab world into the Middle Ages. German ...

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