Scheduled for publication in June 2012:
Christmas, 1859. Just one month after the publication of On the Origin of Species, Darwin received a letter that deeply unsettled him. He had expected criticism. Letters were arriving every day like swarms, some expressing praise, most outrage and accusations of heresy. But the letter from the Reverend Powell was different. It accused Darwin of failing to acknowledge his predecessors, of having taken credit for a theory that had already been discovered by others, Baden Powell himself and Darwin’s own grandfather among them.
For all the excuses that leapt to mind – publication had been rushed; he hadn’t been well – Darwin knew he had made a grave error in omitting to mention his intellectual forebears. Yet when he tried to trace these natural philosophers, he found that history had already forgotten them…
In Darwin’s Ghosts, historian and novelist Rebecca Stott rediscovers Aristotle walking the shores of Lesbos with his pupils and Leonardo da Vinci searching for fossils in the mine shafts of the Tuscan hills; Diderot, in Paris, under the surveillance of the secret police, exploring the origins of species, and the brilliant naturalists of the Jardin de Plantes first recognising proof of evolutionary change in the natural history collections stolen during the Napoleonic wars.
Darwin’s Ghosts is a masterful retelling of the collective daring of a few like-minded men who had the imagination to speculate on nature’s ways and the courage to publish at a time when to do so, for political as well as religious reasons, was to risk everything. More than a tale of mummified birds, inland lagoons, Bedouin nomads, secret police files, microscopes and curiosity cabinets, Darwin’s Ghosts is the history of a profoundly dangerous idea.