Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation

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University of Chicago Press, 2000 - Nature - 624 pages
2 Reviews
Fiction or philosophy, profound knowledge or shocking heresy? When Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation was published anonymously in 1844, it sparked one of the greatest sensations of the Victorian era. More than a hundred thousand readers were spellbound by its startling vision—an account of the world that extended from the formation of the solar system to the spiritual destiny of humanity. As gripping as a popular novel, Vestiges combined all the current scientific theories in fields ranging from astronomy and geology to psychology and economics. The book was banned, it was damned, it was hailed as the gospel for a new age. This is where our own public controversies about evolution began.

In a pioneering cultural history, James A. Secord uses the story of Vestiges to create a panoramic portrait of life in the early industrial era from the perspective of its readers. We join apprentices in a factory town as they debate the consequences of an evolutionary ancestry. We listen as Prince Albert reads aloud to Queen Victoria from a book that preachers denounced as blasphemy vomited from the mouth of Satan. And we watch as Charles Darwin turns its pages in the flea-ridden British Museum library, fearful for the fate of his own unpublished theory of evolution. Using secret letters, Secord reveals how Vestiges was written and how the anonymity of its author was maintained for forty years. He also takes us behind the scenes to a bustling world of publishers, printers, and booksellers to show how the furor over the book reflected the emerging industrial economy of print.

Beautifully written and based on painstaking research, Victorian Sensation offers a new approach to literary history, the history of reading, and the history of science. Profusely illustrated and full of fascinating stories, it is the most comprehensive account of the making and reception of a book (other than the Bible) ever attempted.
Winner of the 2002 Pfizer Award from the History of Science Society
 

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User Review  - Stevil2001 - LibraryThing

This monograph is an exhaustively thorough example of "book history": as its subtitle indicates, it charts not just the content, but the circumstances of publication and especially the reading of ... Read full review

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User Review  - juglicerr - LibraryThing

One usually looks at history either as a chronological account of a particular place or discipline, or as broad account of a specific time period. This is the sort of slightly eccentric look at a time ... Read full review

Contents

VI
9
VII
41
VIII
77
IX
111
X
153
XI
155
XII
191
XIII
222
XVII
336
XVIII
364
XIX
401
XX
403
XXI
437
XXII
471
XXIII
533
XXIV
583

XIV
261
XV
297
XVI
299

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About the author (2000)

James A. Secord is Reader in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. He is author of, among others, Controversy in Victorian Geology, editor of the Chicago edition of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Other Evolutionary Writings, and coeditor of Cultures of Natural History.

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