(p. C6) “Visions of Science” is, as Mr. Secord acknowledges, “a book about books.” We learn more about typeface size, bindery material, print runs and sales figures of the books than about the authors. We would not glean from this account, for example, how intertwined their lives were: They attended the same parties, discussed science together and reviewed one another’s works. Taken together, the books Mr. Secord features tell a fascinating story, and they paved the way to another that is not featured in Mr. Secord’s account but hovers over the others like Davy’s spirit guide.
In “Origin of Species” (1859), Charles Darwin took the central ideas in these books–that there is a connection between the sciences, that the Earth is much older than previously thought, that God created the world to work by uniform natural law, and that He built lawful change into his original creation–and used them to frame his theory of evolution by natural selection in terms his readers could accept. The success of Darwin–and the books that influenced him–is evidenced by the fact that within two decades of its publication most British scientists and much of the public accepted that species evolved.
For the full review, see:
LAURA J. SNYDER. “Reading from the Book of Life; Darwin’s radical ideas were accepted surprisingly quickly by an English public already steeped in science.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., April 11, 2015): C6.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date April 10, 2015, and has the title “Science Books That Made Modernity; Darwin’s radical ideas were accepted surprisingly quickly by an English public already steeped in science.”)
The book under review is:
Secord, James A. Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.