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What About Darwin? : All Species of Opinion from Scientists, Sages, Friends, and Enemies Who Met, Read, and Discussed the Naturalist Who Changed the World [Kindle Edition]

by Thomas F. Glick

Reviewed by Ken Liebeskind

professor thomas glick

What About Darwin? is a compendium of writings about Charles Darwin collected and annotated by Thomas F. Glick, a history professor at Boston University who has already published three books on Darwin. There are 442 entries here, from a vast array of individuals including clerics, politicians, novelists, poets, musicians.

The fact that there is such a wide array of opinions proves that Darwin’s The Origin of Species, the work that lay the groundwork for the theory of evolution, is all encompassing. “It produced a radical break in patterns of thought everywhere,” Glick writes in his introduction. The Origin of Species was published in 1859 and instantly sparked controversy with the British novelist George Eliot who wrote, “It will have a great effect on the scientific world, causing a thorough and open discussion of a question about which people have hitherto felt timid.”

What About Darwin? presents all sides of the discussion of evolution, providing excerpts in alphabetical order, from Henry Adams, the American historian, to Emile Zola, the French novelist.

Among the highlights is a passage from William Herndon’s Abraham Lincol,n that said the president “plunged into Darwin’s The Origin of Species when it appeared but Lincoln refused to follow on the plea that the water was too deep.

Mao Tse Tung wrote, “Darwin’s theory of evolution was once dismissed as erroneous and had to win out over bitter opposition. Chinese history offers many similar examples. In a socialist society, the conditions for the growth of the new are radically different from and far superior to those in the old society.”

Karl Marx wrote, “Darwin’s work is most important and suits my purpose in that it provides a basis in natural science for the historical class struggle.”

Sigmund Freud wrote that “Darwin’s conjecture that men originally lived in hordes, each under the domination of a single powerful, violent and jealous male was the root of man’s sense of guilt (or “original sin”) which was thestrictions.”

Isaac Bashevis e beginning at once of social organization, of religion and of ethical rSinger, the Yiddish novelist, wrote that, “Darwin maintained that the continuous struggle for food or sex is the origin of all species. The Cossacks who massacred the Jews, the Russians, the Tartars, all the tribes who kept on killing each other, actually implemented the plans of Creation.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that Darwin’s evolutionary theory raised a furor because it “contradicted those who accepted a literal account of the Bible” and it “seemed to lessen man’s status. We can see that Darwin’s theory upset certain habits of mind.”

There is even some humor here, with a review from the Brooklyn Eagle in 1873 that links P.T. Barnum's circus to Darwin's theory: "Barnum has simplified for ordinary minds the Darwinian controversy by bringing all the animals concerned together and leaving them to speak for themselves."

It is engaging to read many of the excerpts although not all deal with Darwin’s theory of evolution directly. Some merely mention his name in passing.

My biggest criticism of the book is that all of the entries are from the 19th and 20th centuries and none are current. Darwin’s theory of evolution continues to arouse controversy today and writings from born again Christians who oppose the theory and contemporary scientists who support it would have been valuable. Instead. We have a collection of quotes that reads more like a work of history, which is valuable in its own right because it presents the way Darwin’s theory was initially received and how the reaction to it developed over more than a century.

Ken Liebeskind is a freelance writer living in New Haven, Ct.

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