Portrait of a Genius

Paul Johnson - Author

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ISBN 9781101601150 | 176 pages | 11 Oct 2012 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP
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A “riveting” (The Wall Street Journal) biography of one of the most influential and controversial scientists in Western history

Acclaimed historian and biographer Paul Johnson turns his keen eye on Charles Darwin, the towering figure whose work continues to spur scientific debate.

With his publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin forever changed our concept of the world. While Johnson praises Darwin’s extraordinary skills as a natural scientist and his monumental achievements, he does not sidestep Darwin’s tragic failures as an anthropologist. Johnson argues that by applying his theory of natural selection to humans, Darwin provided a platform for the burgeoning eugenics movement. Lay readers and academics alike will enjoy this concise and unflinching exploration of Charles Darwin, a genius whose discoveries—even the flawed ones—add significant dimension to our understanding of his mind, the era in which he lived, and his everlasting impact on our world.

ONE: A Heritage of Genius, and Its Shadow

TWO: Education and Self-Education of a Scientist

THREE: The Loss of God

FOUR: The Making of a Masterpiece

FIVE: Among the Apes and Angels

SIX: How the Great Botanist Missed an Opportunity

SEVEN: Evils of Social Darwinism

EIGHT: Triumph and the Reversal of Natural Selection

Further Reading


Praise for Darwin:
“Riveting . . . The 'genius’ of Paul Johnson’s biography of Charles Darwin is manifestly, impressively apparent [in his discussion of] On the Origin of Species.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Excellent and courageous.”
Michael Flannery, author of Alfred Russel Wallace
“This little sketch reminds us why Darwin’s theory of natural selection endures and continues to provoke controversy.”
Publishers Weekly
“This is a first-rate biography, one that brings Darwin and his ideas into brilliant focus.”                        
History Book Club

"Characteristically pithy and incisive, the ever-popular Johnson offers a Darwin who will be much in demand."

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