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When Pigs Ruled the Earth

James Secord: A prehistoric apocalypse

1 April 2004
When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time 
by Michael Benton.
Thames and Hudson, 336 pp., £16.95, March 2003, 9780500051160
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... Some years ago, a National Enquirer headline announced that Martians had killed off the dinosaurs while visiting Earth to do some big-game hunting. It is hard to imagine such an explanation for the extinction of the trilobites – hard-shelled creatures that looked like giant woodlice. Compared with T. rex and triceratops, they lack the trophy quality. But the episode that led to the trilobites ...

Everything but the Glue

Richard Fortey: A Victorian sensation

22 August 2002
Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception and Secret Authorship of ‘Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation’ 
by James Secord.
Chicago, 624 pp., £22.50, February 2002, 0 226 74410 8
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... history – a past work seen as an appropriate (or inappropriate) step taken towards our present state of perfect enlightenment. As a way of presenting scientific history, however, it is anathema to JamesSecord. His method is to investigate almost everything to do with Vestiges except its actual content. He looks, for example, at its contemporary readership to show how different social circles ...

The Kentish Hog

Adrian Desmond

15 October 1987
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. II: 1837-1843 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 603 pp., £30, March 1987, 0 521 25588 0
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The Works of Charles Darwin 
edited by Paul Barrett and R.B. Freeman.
Pickering & Chatto, 10 pp., £470, March 1987, 1 85196 002 3
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The Darwinian Heritage 
edited by David Kohn.
Princeton, 1138 pp., £67.90, February 1986, 0 691 08356 8
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Western Science in the Arab World: The Impact of Darwinism, 1860-1930 
by Adel Ziadat.
Macmillan, 162 pp., £27.50, October 1986, 0 333 41856 5
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Theories of Human Evolution: A Century of Debate 1844-1944 
by Peter Bowler.
Blackwell, 318 pp., £25, February 1987, 0 631 15264 4
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Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian-Silurian Dispute 
by James Secord.
Princeton, 363 pp., £33.10, October 1986, 0 691 08417 3
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Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture 
by Robert Young.
Cambridge, 341 pp., £30, October 1985, 0 521 31742 8
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... Cambridge teachers. He became the ‘complete Kentish Hog’, ducking parties and declining engagements, even lowering the lane outside his house to protect himself from view. It’s a subject that James Moore has made particularly his own, providing the definitive account of Darwin’s fears, phobias and life options in his lynchpin essay in The Darwinian Heritage. The Darwinian Heritage is a richly ...

Like Cooking a Dumpling

Mike Jay: Victorian Science Writing

20 November 2014
Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age 
by James Secord.
Oxford, 306 pp., £18.99, March 2014, 978 0 19 967526 5
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... of scientific clubs, lending libraries and mechanics’ institutes. There was no guarantee that they would respect the modestly reformed political and religious hierarchy. This is the backdrop to JamesSecord’s concise and engaging survey of the popular science literature that transformed the book trade during the 1830s. The era has been viewed as something of a literary hiatus, with Romanticism ...

Bright Blue Dark Blue

Rosemary Hill: ‘Weatherland’

5 November 2015
Weatherland 
by Alexandra Harris.
Thames and Hudson, 432 pp., £24.95, September 2015, 978 0 500 51811 3
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... a manifestation of a nature that was blind, insensate, indifferent. So much has recently been written about the effect of evolutionary theory on the art and literature of the 19th century – by JamesSecord in Victorian Sensation, Gillian Beer in Darwin’s Plots and A.N. Wilson in God’s Funeral – that it is surprising as well as frustrating that Harris takes no account of it. Had she been ...

Small Special Points

Rosemary Hill: Darwin and the Europeans

23 May 2019
Correspondence of Charles Darwin: Vol. 26, 1878 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt, James Secord and the editors of the Darwin Correspondence Project.
Cambridge, 814 pp., £94.99, October 2018, 978 1 108 47540 2
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... 1870s it was shifting. The last three Victorian decades were different, more doubtful and more divided, than the vigorous High Victorian years. From the world of Landseer and Dickens to that of Henry James and Whistler, what Charles Darwin elsewhere called the ‘tone’ of mind had changed.Darwin turned 69 in February 1878. He felt that ‘large & difficult subjects’ were now beyond him and that ...

The Darwin Show

Steven Shapin

7 January 2010
... Loves You’ bumper-stickers, the ‘Darwin Is My Homeboy’ badges, and the ‘I Darwinism’ thongs. The opening line of the year’s most substantial historical contribution, Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s Darwin’s Sacred Cause, is: ‘Global brands don’t come much bigger than Charles Darwin.’ Quite right.Darwin freely confessed to late-onset philistinism: ‘My mind seems to have ...

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