Hugh Raffles reviews Rebecca Stott's Darwin's Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution in the New York Times (note, this book was listed as one of most notable books of 2012 in the NYT):
The opening pages of Rebecca Stott’s engaging “Darwin’s Ghosts” find Charles Darwin in his study at Down House. It’s December 1859 and “On the Origin of Species” has been on sale in Britain for a month. Darwin holds a letter from the physicist and theologian Baden Powell accusing him of taking credit for a theory developed by others. It provokes, Stott writes, “a prolonged attack of anxiety.”
Darwin had anticipated the charge of plagiarism. Buried somewhere in his notes was a list of predecessors he had planned to acknowledge. With so many enemies lining up against him — venting the expected “disgust and outrage” at his theory of natural selection — he could ill afford to offend his allies. So in the first American edition of “Origin,” he appended a “Historical Sketch” crediting 18 others, including Powell. In subsequent editions, the roll expanded. Stott usefully includes as an appendix the version Darwin added to the fourth British edition, in 1866. It cites over 30 names, many now obscure.
Stott, in her absorbing account, shows that Darwin, who had sat on his discoveries for 20 years, had good reason to worry about his book’s reception. Among many other cautionary tales, there was one very close to home: that of the doctor and poet Erasmus Darwin, his talented and outspoken grandfather. Erasmus — having endured attacks against him in the press and seen the jailing of his publisher — felt compelled to hold back his own major work on evolution until after his death. Charles’s publication of “On the Origin of Species” was precipitated only after he received correspondence from the young naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, who wrote from the Malay Archipelago, detailing his parallel discovery of the mechanism of natural selection.Read the whole review here. I'm adding it to my Christmas reading this year.