An Intimate History of Evolution by Alison Bashford review – the incredible Huxleys


‘Beyond the ordinary’: Julian Huxley addressing the AGM of the Zoological Society of London in 1942. PHOTO/Felix Man/Getty Images

The Victorian biologist and anthropologist TH Huxley and his Unesco director grandson, Julian, are compelling twin poles in this wonderfully ambitious saga of a scientific dynasty

“Dear Sir,” wrote a nameless correspondent to Julian Huxley in 1937. “Would you consent to being the father of my wife’s child, possibly by artificial insemination?” Alison Bashford doesn’t reveal what prompted the request, nor if the evolutionary biologist, eugenicist and ecologist supplied the genetic material.

But she certainly knows why the correspondent would request it. The Huxley family, seemingly, had the right stuff that anyone would want to graft on to their family tree. The dynasty of geniuses began with Julian’s grandfather, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), the great Victorian biologist and comparative anatomist known as Darwin’s bulldog for savaging critics of his friend’s account of natural selection, and proselytising that we descend not from Adam and Eve but from apes. His grandson Julian (1887–1975) was a biologist, a transhumanist, a poet, sci-fi writer, the secretary of London zoo, the first Unesco director general, a broadcasting catalyst for David Attenborough, a eugenicist and a leading figure in the “modern synthesis” that married Darwin’s theory of evolution with the first geneticist, gardening monk Gregor Mendel’s ideas on heredity.

The Guardian for more

Comments are closed.