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Price: $34.95

Hardback 352 pp.
10 b/w halftones, 138 mm x 216 mm



Publication date:
August 2012

Imprint: OUP UK

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Erasmus Darwin

Sex, Science, and Serendipity

Dr. Patricia Fara

Dr Erasmus Darwin seemed an innocuous Midlands physician, a respectable stalwart of eighteenth-century society. But there was another side to him.

Botanist, inventor, Lunar inventor and popular poet, Darwin was internationally renowned for breathtakingly long poems explaining his theories about sex and science. Yet he become a target for the political classes, the victim of a sustained and vitriolic character assassination by London's most savage satirists.

Intrigued, prize-winning historian Patricia Fara set out to investigate why Darwin had provoked such fierce intellectual and political reaction. Inviting her readers to accompany her, she embarked on what turned out to be a circuitous and serendipitous journey.

Her research led her to discover a man who possessed, according to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "perhaps a greater range of knowledge than any other man in Europe." His evolutionary ideas influenced his grandson Charles, were banned by the Vatican, and scandalized his reactionary critics. But for modern readers, he shines out as an impassioned Enlightenment reformer who championed the abolition of slavery, the education of women, and the optimistic ideals of the French Revolution.

As she tracks down her quarry, Patricia Fara uncovers a ferment of dangerous ideas that terrified the establishment, inspired the Romantics, and laid the ground for Victorian battles between faith and science.

Readership : All those interested in the history of the Enlightenment, the eighteenth century, and the history of science, especially the development of the theory of evolution.


  • Review from previous edition: "Engagingly written, appealingly presented and historically insightful...the judges agreed that in its admirably broad scope, its historical and historiographical depth and its engaging re-presentation of the best of recent scholarship, the 2011 Dingle Prize should be awarded to Patricia Fara for Science: A Four Thousand Year History."

    --Dingle Prize Judges

  • Review from previous edition: "Fara's book could not be more wide-ranging, beginning [with] the quest to take the story of science as far back as she possibly can, and ending bang up to date. The content is ambitious, judiciously and fairly handled...The narrative moves forward in an engaging way, while the enthusiasm and opinions of the author are never far from the surface. It is a book to provoke thought and argument. An impressive achievement."

    --Jim Bennett, BBC History Magazine

  • "For a very long time, reputable historians of science have lacked the desire, the knowledge, or the nerve to undertake a book like this -- an attempt to survey the development of science from Antiquity to the present, notably including non-European materials. Patricia Fara has succeeded: Science is an elegant and compact creative synthesis of the piecemeal researches of generations of academic historians. It deserves the widest possible readership."

    --Steven Shapin, Professor of the History of Science, Harvard, and author of The Scientific Revolution

  • "Dismantling popular myths, taking a truly global view and dispensing with false idols, Fara's highly readable survey of science's histories is a breath of fresh air. She unerringly pinpoints the defining moods of each age, treating the past with respect and the present with discernment. This wonderfully literate book tells a story that is far, far more interesting than the tidy fictions of hindsight."

    --Philip Ball, Consultant Editor of Nature

  • "Patricia Fara has written a fascinating account."

    --John Gribbin, Literary Review

  • "Wide-ranging and provocative... Romps through history at a terrific rate."

    --The Economist 11/06/2009

  • "Epic history of science"

    --Jo Marchant, New Scientist

  • "An impressive and commendable effort to square the circle, to tell science's history, from the beginning."

    --Martin D. Gordin, Science

  • "An engaging book...Fara is to be commended for stepping back - way back - to assess the history of science in its entirety."

    --Robert J Malone, excutive director of the History of Science Society

Introduction: Serendipity
The Loves of the Triangles
Poetry, Geometry, and Satire
1. 1. Erasmus Darwin
2. The Loves of the Triangles
3. A Triangle of Poets
The Loves of the Plants
Botany, Women, and Morality
2. 1. The Loves of the Plants
2. Women on Trial
3. Seraglios
The Economy of Vegetation
Knowledge, Power, and Society
3. 1. The Lunar Society
2. The Economy of Vegetation
3. The Triangular Slave Trade
The Temple of Nature
Progress, Race, and Evolution
4. 1. Defining People
2. The Temple of Nature
3. Origins
Conclusion: Reputations & Reflections
Appendix: "The Loves of the Triangles"

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Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is the Senior Tutor of Clare College. A specialist in Enlightenment England, her main passion is explaining to non-academic audiences why the history of science is so fascinating and so important. Her most recent book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History (2009), won the Dingle prize awarded by the British Society for the History of Science. Her other successful publications include Newton: The Making of Genius (2002), Sex, Botany and Empire (2003) and Pandora's Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment (2004). An experienced public lecturer, she appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programmes such as In our Time and Start the Week. She also contributes articles and reviews to many journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Prospect, Nature, and the Times Literary Supplement.

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Special Features

  • A pursuit of the life and ideas of Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles, and prominent scientist, radical, and Enlightenment man of letters.
  • The man who published controversial ideas on Evolution years before the birth of his famous grandson.
  • An exciting detective story in which award-winning author Patricia Fara follows the elusive Dr Darwin through the archives.
  • A quest that offers a fresh view not only of Erasmus Darwin and the Enlightenment, but also of Charles Darwin and the Victorian era.