Annieâ€™s Box: Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution
by Randal Keynes
4th Estate, Â£16.99, ISBN 1841150606
On 23 April 1851 Charles Darwinâ€™s beloved ten-yearold daughter Annie died after a long illness. Randal Keynesâ€™ book argues that this bereavement marked a turning-point in Darwinâ€™s life and work: â€œAfter Annieâ€™s death, Charles set the Christian faith firmly behind himâ€ (p.222) and threw himself further into the researches which were to result in The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Keynes is Darwinâ€™s greatgreat grandson, and has access to an impressive archive of family papers and artefacts, including the â€œboxâ€ which gives the book its title. Annieâ€™s box was a portable writing-desk (the Victorian equivalent of a laptop computer) filled with her personal possessions. After her death, her griefstricken parents treasured it as a memento of her, and it became a family heirloom.
Annieâ€™s short life is central to this book. Keynes posits that Darwinâ€™s theories on the evolution of humanity from apes were formulated partly by observing his childrenâ€™s growth from babies to fully sentient beings. But does Keynes over-estimate the effect of Annieâ€™s death? Would Darwinâ€™s scientific research have led him to reject Christianity anyway? Yes, probably, but Keynesâ€™ book is none the less interesting for that.
The book offers a detailed and reliable account of Darwinâ€™s life, which will be welcome to those of us intimidated by the prospect of ploughing through Moore and Desmondâ€™s authoritative biography (Darwin, by Adrian Desmond, James Moore, 1992, ISBN 0140131922). Keynesâ€™ touching picture of the Darwinsâ€™ family life makes the book eminently readable even for those with no great interest in Darwin. Of course, this scholarly and erudite book will not be welcomed in Fundamentalist Christian quarters where it will be yet another red rag to the Creationist bull. But for skeptics, thatâ€™s a definite recommendation!
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