Reviews of Darwin’s Evolving Identity

“Alistair Sponsel’s first book, Darwin’s Evolving Identity, [is] an important contribution to Darwin studies that is beautifully and fluently written. As the book’s title makes clear, its main concern is with Darwin’s ‘identity’, a term which Sponsel acknowledges is problematic and ambiguous, but is nevertheless the easiest way to capture the tension between Darwin’s self-perception and his reputation (and his conscious desire to shape and reshape the latter) . . . . Sponsel’s superb book shows very clearly that there were numerous Darwinian publics and thus many public Darwins.” Jim Endersby, Annals of Science

“Sponsel resoundingly succeeds in his effort to reevaluate Darwin, making an important contribution to understanding Darwin as a scientific practitioner and as a writer . . . . The book is clearly argued at every level, making plain along the way where and how it engages historiography and primary sources, in a way that is engaging and even elegant.” Penelope Hardy, Endeavour

“Scholarship is hugely more fun and productive if one has something against which to define one’s own position. Not just in science. Could Aristotle have produced his philosophy without Plato’s Theory of Forms to counter? Am I lining up Alistair Sponsel for false praise? Absolutely not. Darwin’s Evolving Identity is one of the most interesting books on Darwin that I have read in a long time. I do, however, think it wrongheaded and I would be a liar if I did not say I enjoyed that aspect immensely . . . . I learned so much from this volume and have so much respect for the author that, perhaps after all, he is right and I am wrong.” Michael Ruse, Quarterly Review of Biology

“One of the triumphs of Sponsel’s book is to shift utterly the way that we should think about Darwin’s theories and publications . . . . This is an acutely original and well-researched treatise that provides an often astonishing perspective on the development of Darwin’s mind and character as a scientist. It is also a greatly profitable read, regardless of your familiarity with Darwin and his scientific and social culture. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and learned a great deal from it. Highest recommendation!” Kevin Padian, BioScience

“Alistair Sponsel is the ideal author to provide this fresh interpretation of Darwin’s work . . . . While others have written about the relationship between [Charles] Lyell and Darwin, Sponsel adds detailed reports of substance of the discussions between the two men. As Sponsel describes it, their relationship became so intense at points that Darwin came to fear that he was being drawn into releasing opinions of a theoretical nature that would come back to haunt him. Sponsel makes the intriguing suggestion that Darwin drew back partly by turning to, what was for him at the time, the less troubling topic of evolution. Sponsel discusses this point in his chapter “The Life of a Tormented Geologist (and Enthusiastic Evolutionist).” It is an interesting point, with merit.” Sandra Herbert, Earth Sciences History

“To say something new about Charles Darwin is no mean feat . . . . And yet, Alistair Sponsel has managed to say something new. In the process, he has also said something about how theories were made, careers were managed, books were written, and – perhaps most importantly for the readership of this journal – how shipboard natural history research was done. […This] lays the groundwork for a successful series of arguments about patronage, writing, and theorising in nineteenth-century science . . . . Indeed, far from reproducing the teleological narrative that so often proceeds from the Galapagos to the Origin, Sponsel recasts the theory of evolution by means of natural selection as the result of a kind of wilful, anxious procrastination. It is an appealing notion to wilful procrastinators everywhere, who would do well to spend a few hours productively sounding the depths of Darwin’s amphibious worlds before turning back to their own neglected manuscripts.” Adrian Young, International Journal of Maritime History

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