To sum up the really rather long blurb up there, Darwin's Ghosts
is about the men and the ideas that paved the way for Darwin's theory of evolution. More interestingly, it details the struggles these men went through to explore and spread their ideas: how they had to break past the traditional hidebound theories of creationism, contend with contradicting contemporaries and popular opinions, and even suffer tropical diseases.
I don't often read non-fiction books because I spend far too much time questioning what proof the author has when they describe the inner workings of historical figures' minds -- how much of it is fact and how much is pure speculation? -- but that annoying voice in the back of my mind was silent when I read Rebecca Stott's Darwin's Ghosts
. The prose is not too flowery and never strays into technical reading; instead, it conveys the wonder the scientists found in nature and the earnest curiosity that propelled their philosophical and scientific explorations. It was gripping and exciting to read about how these incendiary ideas rippled the pond and incited movements across Europe (I do wonder, though, whether these theories have any echoes or even predecessors in Asia -- the book is, as usual, Western-centric, and never really mentions possible Asian theories).
I'm sure this is a heavily romanticized thought, but being a scientist or a natural philosopher must have been like being a rebel celebrity back then -- rather like how being an archaeologist does not necessarily mean handling whips, scaling dangerous ruins crawling with Russian spies, and possessing a hatred of snakes is in the job description.