THE DARWIN CONSPIRACY

John Darnton

In this riveting novel, bestselling author John Darnton transports us to Victorian England and around the world to reveal the secrets of a legendary nineteenth-century figure. What led Darwin to the theory of evolution? Why did he wait twenty-two years to write On the Origin of Species? The story shifts among Darwin’s adventures as he sails around the world on the Beagle, his daughter Lizzie’s journals recording his subsequent ailments and strange behavior, and the research of present-day anthropologist Hugh Kellem and Darwin scholar Beth Dulicmer, whose obsession with Darwin (and with each other) drives them beyond the accepted boundaries of scholarly research.

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In this riveting novel, bestselling author John Darnton transports us to Victorian England and around the world to reveal the secrets of a legendary nineteenth-century figure. What led Darwin to the theory of evolution? Why did he wait twenty-two years to write On the Origin of Species? The story shifts among Darwin’s adventures as he sails around the world on the Beagle, his daughter Lizzie’s journals recording his subsequent ailments and strange behavior, and the research of present-day anthropologist Hugh Kellem and Darwin scholar Beth Dulicmer, whose obsession with Darwin (and with each other) drives them beyond the accepted boundaries of scholarly research. What Hugh and Beth discover—Lizzie’s diaries and letters lead them to a hidden chapter of Darwin’s autobiography—is a maze of bitter rivalries, petty deceptions, and jealously guarded secrets, at the heart of which lies the birth of the theory of evolution.

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  • Anchor Books
  • Paperback
  • September 2006
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781400034833

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$14.00

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About John Darnton

John Darnton has worked for thirty-nine years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is now an associate editor at the paper. He was awarded two George Polk Awards for his coverage of Africa and Eastern Europe, and the Pulitzer Prize for his stories smuggled out of Poland during the period of martial law. He lives in New York. He is the son of Byron Darnton, a war correspondent for The New York Times, who was killed in New Guinea in October 1942.

Praise

“An entertaining, fast-paced read.” —Los Angeles Times

Discussion Questions

We first meet Hugh Kellem while he is conducting research on an island, and later in the novel Darwin arrives at this same location. In what ways does Darnton use his novel’s parallel storylines to build mystery and suspense or deepen the exploration of certain themes? How would this novel be different if it unfolded in a single time period or were told from a single point of view?

Darwin came to the Galapagos carrying just one book: Paradise Lost. How does that book, which tells the story of Lucifer’s rebellion and the temptation and fall of man, forecast themes in Darwin’s narrative and in those of Lizzie and Hugh? Is nature this novel’s paradise, and if so, how is it lost?

As a child Darwin is said to have told fibs, a habit he has since outgrown. When does the adult Darwin first engage in an act of deception? Are we meant to see him as evil or simply flawed? How would you compare what Darwin does with Cal’s doctoring of experimental results or Hugh’s theft of Lizzie’s journals or Lizzie’s subterfuges? What are the consequences of their respective acts of dishonesty?

Why does Captain FitzRoy object so violently to natural law and transmutation, the ideas that preceded the theory of evolution? Are Darwin’s discoveries really inimical to religious faith or only to a particular kind of faith, and if they are so heretical why do they become more widely accepted even in his lifetime? Why do you think evolution is more controversial today than it was thirty or forty years ago?

While reading Lizzie’s journals, Hugh, who has the benefit of knowing how her life will turn out, feels as if he is “seeing a speeding car and knowing that it is soon to crash. Possessing that knowledge was like being God.” Does reading this novel, so much of which is grounded in fact, place the reader in a similar position? Discuss the appeal of historical fiction and its peculiar tension between the known and the unknown, the factual and the invented.