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Secord, James A.

Secord, James A.

PERSONAL:

Born in Madison, WI. Education: Attended Pomona College and Princeton University.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge, Free School Ln., Cambridge CB2 3RH, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Educator and writer. Cambridge University, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge, England, reader in history and philosophy and director of the Darwin Correspondence Project.

WRITINGS:

Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian-Silurian Dispute, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1986.

(Editor and author of new introduction) Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Other Evolutionary Writings, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1994.

(Editor, with N. Jardine and E.C. Spary) Cultures of Natural History, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1996.

(Editor and author of introduction) Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1997.

Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2000.

SIDELIGHTS:

James A. Secord is a specialist in the history and philosophy of science. In his book Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," the author takes the story of an 1844 publishing sensation titled Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation as his starting point to reflect on life in the early industrial era. The book was published anonymously and became widely popular as readers from aristocrats to barmaids were fascinated by its broad scope, which ran from the creation of the solar system to the ultimate spiritual fate of human beings. Although it was read throughout Great Britain, the book's mixing of science and spiritualism and its early proposal that humans evolved from apes led many to ridicule it as blasphemy. In Victorian Sensation, Secord recounts the book's enormous impact, which included many people who could not read requesting that it be read to them. The author also relates how the identity of its author, a Scottish journalist named Robert Chambers, was kept secret for four decades. As for the book's account of evolution, Secord writes of how Chambers's assertions about evolution, though mistaken in many areas, helped prepare the public for the later publication of Charles Darwin's groundbreaking The Origin of the Species. In the process, the author traces the history of science during that time as well as providing a look at the world of publishing.

Critics almost unanimously praised Victorian Sensation. "Secord's book is an exemplar of nuanced, scholarly curiosity," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, who went on to note the author's "clear, understated prose." Other reviewers also commented positively on Secord's writing style, including William Montgomery, who wrote in Science: "Secord writes clear, vigorous prose and provides plenty of helpful illustrations. One cannot ask for more." Writing in Isis, Frederick B. Churchill noted: "With this extraordinary marshaling of historical material, backed by years of intensive sleuthing and broad reading, Secord dares to provide a near-total history of and revision of a traditional minor affair in the history of science." Churchill added: "I strongly recommend Victorian Sensation to anyone concerned about the twin processes of representation and communication in the history of science and for all interested in Victorian cultural history."

Other reviewers noted the scope of Victorian culture that Secord addresses. For example, American Scientist contributor Robert J. Richards commented: "Through Secord's history, we get a comprehensive account of the complex reactions the book stimulated throughout Victorian society. As a historian of reading of this particular book, he has done an astounding job, searching through mountains of published materials and unpublished documents." R. Bryan Bademan wrote in a review in the Journal of Religion: "This is … a brilliant interdisciplinary study, gleaning from studies in material culture; the history of the book; British literature; economic, political, and religious history; and, of course, the history of science."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Albion, summer, 2002, Lynn K. Nyhart, review of Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publica-tion, Reception, and Secret Authorship of "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation," p. 331.

American Scientist, September, 2001, Robert J. Richards, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 454.

Books & Culture, January-February, 2002, David N. Livingstone, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 37.

Canadian Journal of History, December, 2002, Richard England, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 574.

Choice, January, 1987, G. Nicholas, review of Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian-Silurian Dispute, p. 779.

Configurations, winter, 2002, Charles F. Urbanowicz, review of Victorian Sensation, pp. 195-198.

English Historical Review, April, 2002, Robert Fox, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 410.

Historian, winter, 2002, Lynda Payne, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 513.

History Today, July, 2001, Randal Keynes, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 58.

Isis, June, 2002, Frederick B. Churchill, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 314.

Journal of Ecclesiastical History, July, 2002, John Hedley Brooke, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 633.

Journal of Religion, April, 2003, R. Bryan Bademan, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 281.

Library Journal, November 15, 2000, Joyce L. Ogburn, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 82.

London Review of Books, October 15, 1987, Adrian Desmond, review of Controversy in Victorian Geology, pp. 13-14.

New Scientist, November 26, 1994, Michael Taylor, review of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and Other Evolutionary Writings, p. 50.

New York Times Book Review, May 20, 2001, Arianne Chernock, review of Victorian Sensation.

Publishers Weekly, January 15, 2001, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 61.

Science, January 23, 1987, William Montgomery, review of Controversy in Victorian Geology, p. 490; February 2, 2001, David L. Hull, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 833.

Times Literary Supplement, May 22, 1987, C.H. Holland, review of Controversy in Victorian Geology, p. 565.

Victorian Studies, winter, 2003, Simon J. Knell, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 346.

Wordsworth Circle, autumn, 2001, Robert M. Ryan, review of Victorian Sensation, p. 206.

ONLINE

Complete-Review.com,http://www.complete-review.com/ (April 1, 2007), review of Victorian Sensation.

Darwin Correspondence Project Web site,http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Departments/Darwin/js-press-release.html (April 1, 2007), "James Secord appointed Director of the Darwin Correspondence Project."

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