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In the Iguanodon Diner

J.W. Burrow, 6 October 1994

Richard OwenVictorian Naturalist 
by Nicolaas Rupke.
Yale, 462 pp., £35, February 1994, 0 300 05820 9
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... reconstructed iguanodon, the head of both the table and the beast was held – as of right – by Richard Owen, universally acknowledged as Britain’s premier anatomist, ‘the English Cuvier’, and arguably the foremost British ‘man of science’ of his generation. It is true that he was not, even then, entirely without detractors. Gideon ...

Middle Positions

John Hedley Brooke, 21 July 1983

Archetypes and Ancestors: Palaeontology in Victorian London 1850-1875 
by Adrian Desmond.
Blond and Briggs, 287 pp., £15.95, October 1982, 0 85634 121 5
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Evolution without Evidence: Charles Darwin and ‘The Origin Species’ 
by Barry Gale.
Harvester, 238 pp., £18.95, January 1983, 0 7108 0442 3
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The Secular Ark: Studies in the History of Biogeography 
by Janet Browne.
Yale, 273 pp., £21, May 1983, 0 300 02460 6
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The Descent of Darwin: A Handbook of Doubts about Darwinsm 
by Brain Leith.
Collins, 174 pp., £7.95, December 1982, 0 00 219548 8
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... for T.H. Huxley, ‘the natural and irreconcilable enemies of science’. His professional rival Richard Owen, by contrast, considered those blind to the beauty of design in nature to be suffering from ‘some, perhaps, congenital, defect of mind’. But the trouble with reduction to polar opposites is that what really gets excluded are the middle ...

Can Gorbachev succeed?

John Barber, 4 December 1986

Crisis in the Kremlin: Soviet Succession and the Rise of Gorbachev 
by Richard Owen.
Gollancz, 253 pp., £12.95, September 1986, 0 575 03635 4
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The Waking Giant: The Soviet Union Under Gorbachev 
by Martin Walker.
Joseph, 282 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 7181 2719 6
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The Artful Albanian: The Memoirs of Enver Hoxha 
edited by Jon Halliday.
Chatto, 394 pp., £5.95, May 1986, 0 7011 2970 0
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... impact on the Soviet Union make valuable contributions to assessing the prospects for change. Richard Owen was the Times correspondent in Moscow from 1982 to 1985, while Martin Walker has been the Guardian’s correspondent since 1984. Their approaches provide an interesting contrast. Owen’s, as his title ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Successive John Murrays, 8 November 2018

... is in the same letter. His is one of many un-glossed names, some of them important. The ‘Owen’ referred to by Joseph Hooker in a letter to Murray III about Samuel Wilberforce’s hostile review of Origin of Species is Richard Owen, the palaeontologist who coined the word ‘dinosaur’, and who disagreed ...
The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. IV: 1847-1850 
edited by Frederic Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 744 pp., £32.50, February 1989, 0 521 25590 2
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Darwin and the Novelists: Patterns of Science in Victorian Fiction 
by George Levine.
Harvard, 336 pp., £21.95, November 1988, 0 674 19285 0
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... knowledge was everything to Darwin. All his correspondents were scientists – Lyell, Chambers, Owen, Hooker and so on – and all his talk was of science. Even in his loving letters to his wife Emma (‘my dear Mammy’), science is always on his mind. ‘What a very good girl you are to write to me such very nice letters, telling me all I like to ...


Richard Altick, 29 October 1987

George Scharf’s London: Sketches and Watercolours of a Changing City, 1820-50 
by Peter Jackson.
Murray, 154 pp., £14.95, June 1987, 0 7195 4379 7
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... But from then on, he was increasingly beset by money troubles. When, twenty years later, Professor Richard Owen promised him a guinea a week to sketch anything he liked in the British Museum, it was a transparent gesture of charity. Scharf recorded the ongoing life of London as a labour of love. He never made any profit to speak of, and until recently ...

Before Darwin

Harriet Ritvo, 24 May 1990

The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine and Reform in Radical London 
by Adrian Desmond.
Chicago, 503 pp., £27.95, March 1990, 0 226 14346 5
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... former audience – he attributes not to any persuasive disproof by conservative opponents like Richard Owen, then of the Royal College of Surgeons, but to the diffusion of a spirit of liberal compromise within medicine and science which led to the isolation and ultimate abandonment of a range of radical institutions and positions. Of course, the ...

When Pigs Ruled the Earth

James Secord: A prehistoric apocalypse, 1 April 2004

When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time 
by Michael Benton.
Thames and Hudson, 336 pp., £16.95, March 2003, 9780500051160
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... Boers, who feared that they might be used to prove the antiquity of the world. The naturalist Richard Owen, who worked in London at the centre of an imperial network, identified them as the remains of mammal-like reptiles that he called dicynodonts (from the two canine teeth that these animals used to break up their diet of plants). Pinpointing the ...

The Name of the Beast

Armand Marie Leroi, 11 December 1997

by Jacques Roger.
Cornell, 492 pp., £39.50, August 1997, 0 8014 2918 8
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The Platypus and the Mermaid and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination 
by Harriet Ritvo.
Harvard, 274 pp., £19.95, November 1997, 0 674 67357 3
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... thought they might well be viewed as links between mammals, birds and reptiles. His bête noire, Richard Owen, held fast to Platonisin, however, and denied that they were intermediate to anything – he placed the platypus with the edentates (armadillos, again). Owen even denied that Ornithorychus laid eggs, though ...

The Kentish Hog

Adrian Desmond, 15 October 1987

The Correspondence of Charles Darwin. Vol. II: 1837-1843 
edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Sydney Smith.
Cambridge, 603 pp., £30, March 1987, 0 521 25588 0
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The Works of Charles Darwin 
edited by Paul Barrett and R.B. Freeman.
Pickering & Chatto, 10 pp., £470, March 1987, 1 85196 002 3
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The Darwinian Heritage 
edited by David Kohn.
Princeton, 1138 pp., £67.90, February 1986, 0 691 08356 8
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Western Science in the Arab World: The Impact of Darwinism, 1860-1930 
by Adel Ziadat.
Macmillan, 162 pp., £27.50, October 1986, 0 333 41856 5
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Theories of Human Evolution: A Century of Debate 1844-1944 
by Peter Bowler.
Blackwell, 318 pp., £25, February 1987, 0 631 15264 4
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Controversy in Victorian Geology: The Cambrian-Silurian Dispute 
by James Secord.
Princeton, 363 pp., £33.10, October 1986, 0 691 08417 3
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Darwin’s Metaphor: Nature’s Place in Victorian Culture 
by Robert Young.
Cambridge, 341 pp., £30, October 1985, 0 521 31742 8
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... brought back from Patagonia – quite differently from the young Coleridgean anatomist Richard Owen. This divergent ‘reading’ reflected not only his distinct style of science – he was a field naturalist and Owen a museum anatomist – but also his evolutionary understanding (on which he was implacably ...

Animal, Spiritual and Cerebral

Mary Midgley, 18 August 1983

Animal Thought 
by Stephen Walker.
Routledge, 388 pp., £17.50, January 1983, 0 7100 9037 4
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On the Evolution of Human Behaviour 
by Peter Reynolds.
California, 259 pp., £20, December 1981, 0 520 04294 8
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The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit 
by Melvin Konner.
Heinemann, 436 pp., £16.50, October 1982, 0 434 39703 2
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Sociobiology and the Human Dimension 
by Georg Breuer.
Cambridge, 264 pp., £22.50, January 1983, 0 521 24544 3
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Sociobiology and the Pre-Emption of Social Science 
by Alexander Rosenberg.
Blackwell, 210 pp., £9.90, March 1981, 0 631 12625 2
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... the soul – now had to be something not shared with any other animal. The great anatomist Richard Owen therefore claimed to find such unique structures, and long continued to maintain their uniqueness in the face of plain evidence from T.H. Huxley that they were present in apes as well. When this kind of rearguard defence finally failed, the ...


Walter Nash, 25 April 1991

by Patrice Chaplin.
Methuen, 216 pp., £13.99, February 1991, 0 413 63290 3
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Pious Secrets 
by Irene Dische.
Bloomsbury, 147 pp., £14.99, February 1991, 0 7475 0835 6
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City of the Mind 
by Penelope Lively.
Deutsch, 220 pp., £12.99, March 1991, 0 233 98661 8
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... recent or remote: to Martin Frobisher, sailing out of the Thames to unimaginable wildernesses; to Richard Owen, a Victorian palaeontologist and student of dinosaurs; and Jim Protheroe, an air-raid warden whose only child is killed in the Blitz, even as another child is being born in an air-raid shelter. Penelope Lively evokes these personalities and ...

A Duck Folded in Half

Armand Marie Leroi, 19 June 1997

Before the Backbone: Views on the Origins of the Vertebrates 
by Henry Gee.
Chapman and Hall, 346 pp., £35, August 1996, 0 412 48300 9
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... did not displace Transcendental Anatomy easily. At the British Museum (Natural History), Richard Owen promulgated a brilliant programme of comparative anatomy based on the idea that the similarities among animals derive from their correspondence to an ideal form – an Archetype built to a Divine Plan. For this, as well as his unattractive ...


Steven Shapin: Joseph Hooker and the Dead Foreign Weeds, 20 November 2008

Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science 
by Jim Endersby.
Chicago, 429 pp., £18, May 2008, 978 0 226 20791 9
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... fool who can make a bad species and worse genera is a “Naturalist”.’ And another biologist, Richard Owen, made light of herbarium work as ‘the attaching of barbarous binomials to dried foreign weeds’. Partly because of its association with more general economic and cultural concerns, partly because it was so widely conceived as merely ...

Mae West and the British Raj

Wendy Doniger: Dinosaur Icons, 18 February 1999

The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon 
by W.J.T. Mitchell.
Chicago, 321 pp., £25, November 1998, 0 226 53204 6
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... to the present). The term ‘dinosaur’ (meaning ‘terrible lizard’), coined in the 1840s by Richard Owen, is misleading: in fact dinosaurs are neither reptiles nor lizards (nor, inevitably, terrible). Charles Knight, who painted them for the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago from the ...

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