Friday, April 19, 2013

Peter Bowler

Peter J. Bowler is professor emeritus of the history of science at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has written several books on the development and impact of evolutionism and on science and religion, including Evolution: The History of an Idea, The Eclipse of Darwinism, The Non-Darwinian Revolution, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence, and Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons.

His latest book is Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin.

Recently I asked Bowler about what he was reading.  His reply:
As a child I read the English translation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea with enthusiasm and loved the Walt Disney movie with James Mason as Captain Nemo. Now we have a house in France and I’ve been reading Verne in the original French to improve my language skills, including of course Vingt milles lieues sous les mers (interesting that in French it’s under the seas, plural). I’d always been a bit concerned about the nationality of the ship that the submarine Nautilus sinks toward the end of the book, and Nemo’s hostility to the nation which sent it to hunt him down. But I hadn’t realized that another of Verne’s novels, L’isle mystĂ©rieuse (The Mysterious Island) turns into a sequel which explains Nemo’s origins.

I’ve now read this in the original French and my childhood illusions have been shattered. The American colonists of the island (escapees by balloon from a Confederate prison camp toward the end of the Civil War) eventually meet their mysterious benefactor, and he turns out to be the aged Captain Nemo. Before dying and being entombed in the sunken Nautilus he reveals that he is an Indian prince dispossessed by the British after the revolution (‘mutiny’ the British called it) of 1857. Now I’m a historian with an interest in 19th-century imperialism, so the revelation oughtn’t to be a shock, but I know that as a child growing up in the Britain of the 1950s I would have found it hard to cope with the idea that the Empire had these darker consequences.

Still, I have at least learnt a lot of French technical terms, ideal for a historian of science dealing with that period – and I have acquired a very thick French dictionary.
Learn more about Bowler's Darwin Deleted at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Darwin Deleted.

--Marshal Zeringue