Danielle Clode reviews 'Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker' by A.N. Wilson

Millions of words have been printed by and about Charles Darwin. There are hundreds of biographies, the dozens of books he wrote (including his own autobiography), as well as various pamphlets, essays, correspondence, diaries, manuscript notes, and other ephemera. Fascinating though the man and his work is, it must be hard to come up with anything new to say about him.

Perhaps this is why A.N. Wilson opens his new biography, Charles Darwin: Victorian mythmaker, with the bald statement that ‘Darwin was wrong’. It is a perplexing start. Darwin was ‘wrong’ about a great many things – the mechanism of inheritance, for instance. Scientific theories evolve, adapt, diversify, and separate over time. We don’t expect any of them, not even Charles Lyell’s, to remain set in stone. Wilson’s lack of familiarity with science is apparent from the opening pages through to his references (mostly books, rarely scientific articles). The early pages are filled with imprecise definitions, inapt vocabulary (like ‘fact’ and ‘truth’), culminating in this dramatic question on page five: ‘What exactly, did Darwin discover? Or is his theory just that – simply a theory?’ My forehead hits the table, under the impetus of gravity, which is also ‘simply a theory’, but leaves a bruise nonetheless.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are already a subscriber, click here, or on the ‘Log In’ tab in the top right hand corner of the screen, and enter your username and password to log in. If you have logged in but are still seeing this message your subscription to ABR Online may have expired. Please contact us or click here to renew your subscription to ABR Online. More information about ABR Online can be found on our Frequently Asked Questions page.

Published in December 2017, no. 397

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to comments@australianbookreview.com.au. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.