I actually finished Darwin’s Ghosts two or three months ago but I didn’t want to write about it alone. Unfortunately my reading took a dip in the latter months of the year and it’s only in the last week or so that I finished the other two books. Now I am happy to make the last additions to my 2020 Book List.
Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search Of The First Evolutionists (2012) by Rebecca Stott
Darwin had been worried about being accused of plagiarism and, to try and appease his critics, began listing previous scientists who had had even remotely similar ideas. In some ways this is a continuation of his work. Stott follows up on some of the key people involved in the development of evolutionary thought and describes their lives and work.
I found myself torn over her writing. It’s easy enough to read but I felt that it became so narrative that parts must have been made up, e.g. describing how, when someone went into a bookshop over a century ago, the books were arranged and the glances between the people. I know it’s just flavour but there’s a lot of it and it felt forced to me. One thing that came out in both the flavour and the facts is how scientific progress has been repeatedly suppressed by religion. One can’t help but wonder how much more we could’ve progressed were it not for the various churches and supernatural beliefs in the world.
As interesting as it is as a history book, I felt it could’ve been more of a scientific book. The focus is very much on the people who had the ideas but there was a lack of description of the ideas themselves. It’s not that it’s completely absent but I seldom got the feeling that I really understood what those early figures were thinking, why did they come to their conclusions, what exactly they believed and where they went wrong. That said, it was certainly not a bad book but not my first choice either.
Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde And Other Stories (2014) by Robert Louis Stevenson
While this particular collection was published in 2014, the stories inside are obviously much older; Stevenson was writing in the latter decades of the 1800s. One might also realise that this is the second time that this book’s cover appears on this blog. In 2017, I read Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde but it was only this year that I read the remaining short stories.
One of the most unusual stories in the collection is Thrawn Janet. When I started reading it, I found it harder and harder to follow and suspected that it was written to convey a thick Scottish accent. It was only later that I learned it was actually written in Scots, which is recognised as separate language from English! Luckily it is shares enough similarity to English to be understood but it was quite unexpected.
The rest of the stories were not bad although some were better than others. They all fell in the horror genre and, while the build up was usually good, I found the conclusions to be rather weak and disappointing. Despite that, there were some interesting ideas and I was surprised to find two stories set in Hawaii!
Furries Among Us 2 (2017) edited by Thurston Howl
This is the follow up to volume 1 which I read a few years ago. It contains a mix of essays on the furry fandom from various furs and researchers. Because of the mix of people involved, the quality and importance of the individual pieces can vary quite a lot. If you have a particular interest in the furry fandom then it might be worth getting but you could get much of the same information online at the same level of quality.
The first set of essays are by ordinary furs (some fairly famous though) on various topics that interest them. For example, Mary Lowd has an essay on furry as a genre versus furry as a fandom which is quite a good read. Some others are less important, the late Fred Patten writes about the state of furry publishing but, except for historical purposes, there’s little value in reading it a few years after it was written. Others needed a little focus; Bill Kieffer has a chapter on the topic of transformation (e.g. humans turning into animals) which starts off really well but by the end is little more than a list of stories and websites about transformation.
The later chapters are written by psychologists and sociologists from the International Anthropomorphic Research Project (IARP) and, as with vol. 1, are generally of the highest quality. The IARP has been conducting surveys of the furry fandom for several years and uses those results to give data-driven accounts of the fandom. There is plenty of good stuff to learn but sometimes it can be weird to read. For example, the final chapter covers therianthropy (the delusion of being part animal, whether physically or spiritually) but never discusses—or even mentions—the question of whether those beliefs are supported by any sort of evidence. I suppose it’s the non-judgement that is necessary in psychology but, as a scientist, it just comes off seeming very strange.