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1 Beaverton Mystery- A to Z

The Darwin Conspiracy


The Darwin Conspiracy Cover



Author's Note

"I first became interested in Charles Darwin in 1996 when I visited Down House, his estate in Kent, to write an article for the New York Times. The place was in woeful condition: the roof was leaking; plaster was raining down in the upstairs hallway; and the greenhouse and pigeon coop, where Darwin conducted his famous breeding experiments, were collapsing. As a fund-raising campaign to restore the house and grounds was in process, journalists like myself were treated as welcome guests. The curator allowed me to sit in Darwin?s hard-backed horsehair chair which was fitted with rollers that allowed him to scoot around the room. The chair also had a wooden board fitted across the arms, and it was upon that board that Darwin wrote The Origin of Species.

It's easy to understand the fascination Darwin arouses in many people. He is the personification of the Victorian scientist in both the best and worst sense: he was totally consumed by his passion for natural history and for collecting specimens to contribute to the universal library of empirical data. He was able through dint of pure intellect to make the giant deduction that led him to the revolutionary theory of natural selection. And yet his life and outlook were hemmed in by the narrowness of imperial Britain and based on the unwavering certainty that London and Europe were the epicenter of civilization.

While sitting in Darwin's chair, I pondered some of the incongruities in his life. After his arduous five-year voyage around the world (during which he was constantly seasick), he returned to London and forsook travel and adventure the rest of his days. Though still a young man, he retreated to his estate and to the comforts of family life. And Darwin was a world-class procrastinator. He labored on Origin for some 22 years after he was struck by the broad outlines of the theory. He did everything to avoid committing it to print, studying small-bore topics like barnacles for eight years and wandering endlessly around Sandwalk, his "thinking path" on the edge of his grounds. Darwin was pushed into publication only when another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, wrote him a letter proposing the identical theory.

The curator at Down House directed my attention to one or two other oddities in Darwin's daily life. She pointed to the spot inside a large window where he had installed a small mirror to the outside; with one glance he could see who was ringing his doorbell, the better to hide. The curator also directed me to a curtain in the corner that concealed a makeshift lavatory with a porceline basin laid into a wooden platform. It was there, she said, that he often hurried to retch, two or three times a day, as he worked on his masterpiece.

What are we to make of Darwin's famed maladies? All those self-pitying bouts of headaches, dizziness, eczema, flatulence, insomnia, nausea that stalked him upon his return and caused him to seek out quack treatments? Could they have come from an insect bite in South America, as some have theorized? Or, as others have suggested, could they have been psychosomatic? Did they stem from an awareness that his theory would overturn the edifice of religion? Or was there some other secret gnawing at him, something so upsetting and guilt-provoking that it caused his body to rebel?

In 2002, still taken with Darwin, I followed in his footsteps to the Galapagos and returned to the newly restored Down House. I was accompanied by a mischievous thought: wouldn't it be fun to construct a new narrative based on these mysteries in Darwin's life, filling in the blanks to offer another explanation of how he arrived at his iconoclastic theory? The story would weave fact and fiction into a tale of jealousy and intrigue, with various themes echoing the Victorians' obsession with Eden, original sin, savagery, and their own civilizing mission. It might outrage serious scholars while retaining just enough plausibility to make one wonder?. Besides, at the end of the day, what is history? In the words of Thomas Carlyle, history is 'a distillation of rumor.'"

Product Details

Darnton, John
Anchor Books
Historical - General
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7.54x5.80x.70 in. .53 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Contemporary Thrillers

The Darwin Conspiracy Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
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Product details 320 pages Anchor Books - English 9781400034833 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Darwin's theories have been under attack since he first published The Origin of Species in 1859, but this grandly ambitious novel goes a few steps further to intimate that he was a fraud — and a murderer. Told by turns from three perspectives, the story opens in the present on a volcanic outcrop off the coast of Ecuador where Hugh Kellem, a British field researcher, while tracing Darwin's research path, meets Beth Dulcimer, a beautiful scientist rumored to be distantly related to Darwin. A quick shift shows an ambitious young Darwin about to embark on the Beagle. A little further on, Darwin's youngest daughter, Lizzie, enters via her journal entries, written in the 1870s, decades after Darwin's famous five-year voyage. As the three perspectives unfold, Hugh and Beth find themselves trying to solve the same mystery that intrigued Lizzie 130 years earlier: what happened on the 'nuit de feu,' the night that transformed the confident, robust Darwin into a haunted near-invalid for his remaining years? Stilted dialogue, perfunctory romance and expendable subplots make for a rough voyage, but Darnton (Neanderthal) puts real passion into his historical imaginings and recreations: the revelation of the 'true' origin of the theory of evolution is particularly inspired and more than enough to sustain another Darntonian bestseller. Agent, Kathy Robbins. 100,000 first printing. (Sept. 20)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "An entertaining, fast-paced read."
"Review" by , "Darnton has playfully created and solved several mysteries revolving around events during Charles Darwin's early voyage on the Beagle."
"Review" by , "An elaborate scientific thriller, rich with detail and the pacing of a good murder mystery."
"Review" by , "A fast-paced, intriguing and exciting story."
"Review" by , "Going back and forth in time and written with careful elegance...this work...dares you to put it down at every chapter's end. Recommended..."
"Review" by , "[T]he final sections are just plain silly....Reduces one of history's most important scientific discoveries to a mediocre whodunit."
"Review" by , "If there is a set of requirements for the idea-driven popular novel that serves up fast-paced history and questions of consequence, The Darwin Conspiracy has them all..."
"Review" by , "The pages of The Darwin Conspiracy turn quickly and the ending is a neat surprise...But as it is, however, the book is not burdened with too much substance."
"Review" by , "An elaborately plotted but unconvincing historical thriller in which two young researchers comb musty archives and crumbling manor houses for hidden documents that will reveal a secret side to Darwin's personality."
"Review" by , "A wonderfully entertaining creation that stands as a convincing mixture of truth and speculation....engaging speculative fiction about the convergence and deviations of science, faith and the truth they make up."
"Synopsis" by , Fact and fiction become intertwined in this novel that explores the mysteries attached to the life and work of Charles Darwin. The narrative unfolds through Darwin's view, that of his youngest daughter, Lizzie, and two scholars.
"Synopsis" by , From the author of the bestselling Neanderthal comes this novel of gripping suspense and scientific conquest-a page-turning historical mystery that brilliantly explores the intrigue behind Darwin and his theory of evolution.Its 1831, and aboard HMS Beagle the young Charles Darwin sets off down the English Channel for South America. More than 150 years later, two ambitious scholars pursuing their obsession with Darwin (and with each other) come across the diaries and letters of Darwins daughter. What they discover is a maze of violent rivalries, petty deceptions, and jealously guarded secrets, and the extraordinary story of an expedition embarked upon by two men. Only one returned-and changed history forever.
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