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Readings and Ramblings

This is Readings and Ramblings. It is readings because this is a site for blogging about books and I intend to do that. It is ramblings because I might want to write about something else now and then.

This Thing of Darkness - Harry Thompson This is a biographical novel, but it is not a biographical novel about the person I thought it was about. It is not a biographical novel about Charles Darwin. It is a biographical novel about Robert Fitzroy, the captain of the Beagle. I was more interested in Darwin, but Fitzroy's life is rather fascinating too and I learned quite a lot about him. Even though, being a work of fiction, a lot of dialog is made up and some events are conflated on purpose the author adheres very well to the historical record and, in fact, reproduces some of the dialog word for word from historical documents. The book is meticulously researched. Even though it is a biographical novel about Robert Fitzroy it does have Darwin as a secondary plot and covers his life pretty thoroughly too, at least insofar as it intersects with Fitzroy's and since Darwin was his companion on an around the world voyage where he developed his theory of biological evolution that intersection is pretty major. Darwin, of course, gradually came to his theory as he made more and more observations and this book makes a really good attempt to reconstruct his thinking processes. It covers how he arrived at his lesser known geological theories too. Something that really struck me, though, was the major impediment in Darwin's way and in the way of the entire scientific community at the time that obstructed the development of not only the theories under discussion, but the development of scientific theory in general. That was religion. These English explorers traveled to South America, Tahiti, New Zealand and other places around the world feeling supremely confident of their superiority to the indigenous peoples they encountered. They had no compunction at all about imposing their own standards on these people while they had utter contempt for such "primitives." But then, every observation they made had to be filtered through the bible. Every geological formation they encountered had to be explained with reference to the biblical flood. Every fossil they encountered had to be explained as a victim of that supposed flood. It is extremely clear that their adherence to Christianity that they were forcing on other cultures was strongly interfering with their scientific progress. As inferior as they just assumed these other cultures were it is clear that their Christianity made them not very far removed from the superstitious natives themselves. For an entertaining account of nineteenth century scientific inquiry and for an entertaining story of sea adventure do read this book.