The intellectual history of Evolution of Charles Darwin's forebears is a largely untold story in need of telling. Unfortunately what Rebecca Stott has written is tarnished by her biases and pretentious prose.
This book would have been better served by less pretentious prose, venting of bitter childhood memories, historical revision, and better research into the actual history of Evolutionary thought.
1) In an attempt to make it seem Evolution has a far more ancient history and deeper intellectual roots than what it actually has, Rebecca Stott revises history to include many thinkers who have no contribution to Evolution (Leonardo da Vinci, Al-Jahiz, etc), while excluding many other thinkers, the contemporaries of Darwin, who had actual influence on the development of Evolution. It is far from an accurate history of Evolutionary thought.
2) Stott makes it clear in her preface that she has childhood bone to pick with religion, or rather Christianity, and takes every opportunity to paint religion as a boogeyman (strangely, Islam is treated almost positively on the chapter dealing with Al-Jahiz). Many of the evidence she uses as support is cherry picked and contribute nothing to the topic, while glossing or ignoring the wealth of contradicting evidence. I take no issue with Stott's freedom to express disagreement with religion, but her bitterness comes through from preface through the entirety of the book, distracting from the actual topic. Often it is as if the book is little more than a backdrop for her to vent pent-up childhood anger.
3) She is a overly critical of those who sought recognition for their contributions to Evolution, while forever apologizing for Darwin's obvious failure to recognize his intellectual forbears. In the preface, Powell is portrayed as an envious and bitter man riding on the coattails of Darwin, rather than an intellectual contributor whose work precedes Darwin. Meanwhile, Darwin, who took ~5 years to write the origin, but somehow could not find the time to mention the contributions of others until years later, is given a large list of excuses from poor health to being under too much pressure. Perhaps the most amusing of such excuses is the argument that Darwin simply was not a good historian and thus cannot be blamed for forgetting to recognize the earlier works of others, even though he had created a list of such people before he ever published The Origin.
4) Finally there is the prose. This book often is more historical fiction in line with the bad reenactments one sees on History Channel programs. The book often meanders into lengthy descriptions of the scenery, while replaying fictional descriptions of what Darwin, Aristotle, Al-Jahiz, etc thought, were doing, feeling, etc. Meanwhile the key ideas that each person contributed or didn't contribute is lost and one is left wondering what this has to do with Evolution.
She does an excellent job, no complaints
Other than the subject matter, which is deserving of a good book, no.
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