Darwin's Ghosts-Rebecca Stott
The book is basically a series of biographies of thinkers throughout the ages who are Darwin's predecessors in the theory of evolution.
While I recognize that Charles Darwin is certainly the modern father of the theory of evolution and natural selection, I've always been troubled by the idea of Darwin thinking in a vacuum. It goes against everything I ever have done or observed myself and it has always bugged me when discussions about evolutionary theories seem to have one author. I find it ironic that Darwin so often has the position of creator of the theory Creationism argues against. So when I spotted this book on the new books shelf of my library I snapped it up immediately.
Stott has done all the legwork in finding out about those forgotten predecessors of evolution and concisely describing their contributions. It's really a shame they are forgotten since so many ended up destitute, in prison, exiled, and tortured. It's very engaging and I am thoroughly impressed by the lack of superfluity in each mini biography that nonetheless provides enough information to bring each man alive. She is novelist and science writer. The science writer accurately describes and finds connections between far flung subjects and the novelist gives you the political and personal contexts of each individual.
Stott is much more sympathetic to Darwin than perhaps I am but I came to see her point about the bravery of his publication and to sympathize with his own anxiety about how to acknowledge his influences. Certainly Aristotle was a safe influence to admit to but Maillet with his belief in mer-man could have jeopardized his own credibility. Other influences such as Palissy pottery were probably much more subtle but as a more objective observer Stott can dwell in the pertinent nuances.
So who were his predecessors? Aristotle, Al-Jahiz, Da Vinci, Palissy, Malliet, Rafin, Diderot, Lamarck, Erasmas Darwin (a grandfather), Wallace (a contemporary) among others.
I recommend this to anyone who has to discuss evolutionary and Darwinist theory, academics, and people who like biographies of fascinating people (especially if you rarely read them like me).