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An Intimate History of Evolution by Alison Bashford Review – Darwin’s Outriders | Science & Nature Book

C.Harles Darwin was by all accounts meek and non-confrontational. In his writings, he tended not to attack his opponents personally. He rarely gave public lectures, and never once participated in the arduous, head-to-head debates that served as the forum for public proof of scientific ideas in Victorian England.

Fortunately, the author of On the origin of species The most famous is Thomas Henry Huxley, a mutton-chopped, square-headed, scientific boxer who calls himself the “Bulldog” of Darwinism. Huxley reveled in dragging down old orthodoxy in the name of evolution, whether scientific or religious. Barnstorming in North America, a continent Darwin never visited His lecture When he went on tour, New York I posted what he was doing on his front page.

Huxley’s grandson, Julian Huxley, is not well known outside the scientific community, but he was also a biologist who tirelessly popularized Darwin’s theories in the 20th century. On the BBC programme, on the pages of this newspaper, in more than 30 books, and as head of public institutions such as the London Zoo and later UNESCO, he is part of the idea that the logic of evolution pervades modern life. is responsible for From our bodies and minds to politics and society itself.

Alison Bashford’s book is an interesting hybrid. A deeply researched biography of Thomas Henry, Julian, and the wider Huxley family, the result of a close examination of their writings and correspondence, and the evolution of Britain through the radical changes in science and society that produced modernity. It also serves as an intellectual history of Thomas Henry was born in his 1825 and died in 1895 when Julian was his eight years old. Julian himself died in 1975. Bashford sees the men as properly booking this age “like Janus”. 20th-century Julien looks to a more uncertain future.

By involving both men and their vast extended families, Bashford is able to cover more than a century while maintaining continuity and intimate scale. Being infinitely close helps. Thomas Henry is an underclass hard worker climbing the newly constructed meritocracy ladder of specialized science, and has great faith in his project to unlock the mysteries of the world. But the basic premises of his time, from gender relations to imperial interests, suit him well, freed from his religious and reactionary cobwebs.

Eton-educated Julian is more flexible and error-prone. He hops between the newly created jobs of the era, from filmmaking to world government. Although he is a dedicated scientist, he is puzzled over where Darwin’s thinking fits into the emerging landscape of psychology, art and culture. One of his, 22-year-old Third Reich-interested journalist Viola in his relationship with Irma, happens at the same time as Julian, who is in his 40s, is writing a book debunking racial science. Another poem with American poet May Sarton ends when Sarton moves on to Julian’s wife Juliet. In one of his books, Julian fantasizes about new forms of education and marriage. It can bring solidity and meaning to the welcomed yet confusing development of modern desires.

The juxtaposition of eras yields many delightful insights. Thomas Henry was an avid dissector of the primate brain. He wanted to uncover similar structures among species that challenged man’s status as a unique and revered creature. subject to competition. Richard Owen, the great Christian anatomist, head of natural history at the British Museum, had an institutional advantage over Thomas Henry, observing the skeletons of apes in his private collections and the imperial frontier. received priority shipments of specimens from expeditions in Thomas Henry hurriedly obtained the necessary material and campaigned whole-heartedly among the scientific elite, culminating in his 1863 book Man’s Place in Nature, which ultimately “annihilated” Owen. I was.

Some 70 years later, when the close relationship between humans and apes was well established, it was the turn of psychology to further elucidate common genetics in primates. As an animal behaviorist, and from 1935 until he was director of the London Zoo in 1942, Julian witnessed and inspired “the methodological triumph of culture, mind and emotion over bone and brain”. He is a fan of primatologist Jane Goodall, who named one of his chimpanzee girlfriends “Huxley.” And she defended the value of her work in explaining primate behavior in its own language to traditional scientists who, like Thomas Henry, were more interested in anatomy.

The entirety of British intellectual life seems accessible through this sprawling branch of the family tree. and her efforts to establish and run a girls’ school in Surrey shed light on the changing landscape of women’s education. , influencing Thomas Henry’s commitment to religious philosophy in his later years. Julian She published a book with H.G. Wells and coined the term “transhumanism.”Julian’s brother Ordaz – of brave new world Fame – haunts the margins and brings the cutting edge of psychedelic and psychiatric culture to the life of the Huxley family. There is a sense of a writer who seriously enjoys the rambling well-equipped family home and reads every book and letter.

But Bashford tightens the thread later in the book. The issue of physical, mental and cultural human differences worries Huxley more than the average British liberal of the time. Thomas Henry set sail on a scientific expedition under the banner of the Empire, and the concept of “barbarian” stayed with him. He rightly and repeatedly slammed the idea that there are different species of humans that are strictly defined by natural science.

The aim here is not to cancel Thomas Henry, but to show the progression of ideas through the people who develop them and explain them. When concepts of human difference changed and collided violently, Thomas Henry was part of that struggle, and as part of an early effort to professionalize the field of anthropology, influenced others. I gave

Julian was well aware of the failures of previous generations of scientists, including his grandfather. As Director-General of UNESCO, he deliberately contributed to the formation of a new utopian and anti-racist internationalism. However, he also believed that by understanding evolution, humanity could gain the power to change its own genetic destiny. I have tried to bring back eugenics from

Bashford is too clever to present the subject simply as an avatar of the time. But by the end of Julian’s life, there is a sense of how things have changed completely: Thomas Henry’s project is a success. Science triumphed over religion and brought a kind of order to the natural world, but Julien was drawn to unknown new frontiers: politics, consciousness and the distant future of humanity. The scientist developed a skeptical interest in phenomena such as telepathy in his later years. Progress is funny. As Bashford suggests, the world can be remystified at any moment.

An Intimate History of Evolution: The Story of the Huxley Family by Alison Bashford is published by Allen Lane (£30). To support Guardians and Observers, please order a copy at: Guardian Bookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

An Intimate History of Evolution by Alison Bashford Review – Darwin’s Outriders | Science & Nature Book

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