An Intimate History of Evolution by Alison Bashford review – Darwin’s outriders

A sprawling history of the illustrious Huxley family charts the evolution of science and society over 200 years

Charles Darwin was, by all accounts, a meek and conflict-averse man. In his written work he tended not to personally attack his adversaries. He rarely gave public lectures, and he never once participated in the fractious head-to-head debates that served as the public proving ground for scientific ideas in Victorian England.

Fortunately, the author of On the Origin of Species had outriders to do all that for him – most famously Thomas Henry Huxley, a mutton-chopped, square-headed, scientific pugilist who styled himself Darwinism’s “bulldog”. Huxley delighted in dragging down old orthodoxies, whether scientific or religious, in the name of evolution. When he went on a barnstorming lecture tour of north America, a continent Darwin never visited, the New York Daily Graphic featured a front page illustration of Huxley preparing to club Moses on the head from behind.

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