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  • Published: 29 September 2022
  • ISBN: 9780141992235
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 576

An Intimate History of Evolution

The Story of the Huxley Family




Two hundred years of modern science and culture, told through one family history

In his early twenties, poor, racked with depression, stranded in the Coral Sea on the seemingly endless survey mission of HMS Rattlesnake, hopelessly in love with the young Englishwoman Henrietta Heathorn, Thomas Henry Huxley was a nobody. And yet together he and Henrietta would return to London and go on to found one of the great intellectual and scientific dynasties of their age.

The Huxley family through four generations profoundly shaped how we all see ourselves. In innumerable fields observing both nature and culture, they worked as scientists, novelists, mystics, film-makers, poets and - perhaps above all - as public lecturers, educators and explainers.

Their speciality was evolution in all its forms - at the grandest level of species, deep time, the Earth, and at the most personal and intimate. They shaped great organizations - the Natural History Museum, Imperial College, the London Zoo, UNESCO, the World Wildlife Fund - and they shaped fundamentally how we see ourselves, as individuals and as a species, one among many.

But perhaps their greatest subject was themselves. Alison Bashford's marvellously engaging and original new book interweaves the Huxleys' momentous public achievements with their private triumphs and tragedies. The result is the history of a family, but also a history of humanity grappling with its place in nature. This book shows how much we owe - for better or worse - to the unceasing curiosity, self-absorption and enthusiasms of a small, strange group of men and women.

  • Published: 29 September 2022
  • ISBN: 9780141992235
  • Imprint: Penguin eBooks
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 576

Praise for An Intimate History of Evolution

Packed with insights into the brilliance of three generations of the Huxley family, Bashford's book tells a magnificent story about the huge personalities and shortcomings that propelled evolutionary science and much else besides. Male and female, from Victorian patriarch to zoo director, authors, lovers, and poets: the pages dance with accounts of contemporary literature, psychology, politics, anthropology, religion, and art.

Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography and The Quotable Darwin

Full of surprises on every page, this book makes you wonder why all history can't have the engaging intimacy of a novel. Bashford brilliantly marries intellectual history with the story of four generations of a great family in a literary tour de force.

Professor Jim Secord, author of Visions of Science

Bashford has crafted a masterful biography of Thomas Henry Huxley, patriarch of an evolutionary dynasty, his inheritor and grandson Julian, and the families that sustained them. Interweaving their public contributions to science and private poems, she deftly charts a generational quest to understand and articulate the human condition.

Erika Lorraine Milam, author of Creatures of Cain

Alison Bashford's intimate story of the Huxley clan reveals the ambiguities that arise if we apply modern values to past heroes. Here science, society and personalities interact to bring the past alive.

Peter Bowler, author of Progress Unchained: Ideas of Evolution, Human History and the Future

What a family, what a story, and so cleverly told. Alison Bashford constructs a narrative that intertwines the lives of four generations of Huxleys, boldly forgoing traditional chronology for illuminating synthesis. Absolutely fascinating.

Andrea Wulf, author of The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World

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