by Wendy SmithBritish science writer Adrian Desmond is revered by his peers for his ability to make scientific ideas not only accessible, but downright exciting. His newest biography, of Victorian naturalist Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), shows off Desmond's skills at their vivid best, bringing long-dead controversies to life for the modern reader in characteristically punchy prose.
Tom Huxley was the preeminent popularizer of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution and natural selection, which scandalized Britons in the 1860s because it cast doubt on the assumption that human beings were directly created in God's image. It was Huxley, not the conflict-allergic Darwin, who zestfully debated a bishop outraged by the suggestion that men were descended from monkeys--and carried the day by declaring that he would rather claim an ape for an ancestor than a bigoted cleric who refused to face scientific facts.
By the 1880s, as Victorians slowly fashioned a world view in which Darwinism could coexist with religion, Huxley evolved from fiery radical to respected authority figure in the new scientific establishment he helped to legitimize. "This is a story of Class, Power and Propaganda," writes Desmond, who, as usual, has done a superb job of delineating the economic, social, and political contexts within which scientific debates take place. Huxley's powerful personality roars into focus as well in a biography that is a model of fine science writing for the layperson.
Wendy Smith reviews books for many publications, including the Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times.
Huxley : From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest by Adrian Desmond
The Human Nature Review © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM