Frank McLynn

Not Enough Selection

Darwin

By Adrian Desmond & James Moore

Michael Joseph 771pp £20 order from our bookshop

Some scholarly biographies can bridge the gulf between an academic audience and the general reader. Whether this one will make it is uncertain; our conclusion would have to be, à la Goldwyn, ‘a definite maybe’. The first thing to be said about this book is that the authors and publisher have given too many hostages to fortune and provided a rod for their own backs by their grandiloquent claims. ‘Previous biographies have been curiously bloodless affairs. They have broken little new ground and made no contact with the inflammatory issues and events of his day’ (authors); ‘the most far-reaching and evocative biography of Charles Darwin this century’ (publishers). The book therefore needs to be, nay, cries out to be judged by the severest standards. Let it be said, first, that this volume is a considerable achievement. Pace the timid received opinion of British publishing, a decent biography of a significant historical figure cannot be accomplished in 100,000 words; it is therefore good to see Michael Joseph being sensible on this issue and letting its authors breathe and take their time.

Subscribe to read the full article

KentState_Sept2016_online

hamilton_sept2016_online

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Costume of the life force? Words fail.' Germaine Greer on an ode to the condom ,
    • It's Write on Kew for the next four days. There are free copies of Literary Review about; why not dip your toe into the magazine?,
    • Which sci-fi author time-travelled to ancient Rome and lived a parallel life a persecuted Christian named Thomas? ,
    • You can pick up free copies of Literary Review at Write On Kew, which begins tomorrow. Fill your boots (with magazines).,
    • Michael Burleigh reads a survey of the rise of Asia ,
    • The Book of Kells, the Codex Amiatinus and the Carmina Burana: manuscript celebrities ,
    • 'Her bias is firmly towards all that is subterranean, hidden, buried, cavernous': Gillian Tindall explores Crossrail ,