I’ve been an evolutionary biologist for nearly half a century and have read hundreds of books about Charles Darwin and his science. If we exclude books written by creationists — a group that A.N. Wilson doesn’t identify with — Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is by far the worst. Appalling in its sloppy arguments and unrelenting and unwarranted negativity, its most infuriating flaw is its abysmal failure to get the most basic facts right … That Wilson is the confused outlier among Darwin biographers is easily confirmed by even a cursory inspection of the book, which is replete with factual errors … In the end, Wilson’s book is harmful.
Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker is less a biography than an indictment of a man he finds wanting in so many respects that the reader wonders how Mr. Wilson could stand spending so much time writing about him … In Mr. Wilson’s hands, Darwin is the veritable snake in the garden of cultural history, a corrupter of minds who deserves to be seen clearly for what he always was: a footnote in the history of science … At first I found reading Mr. Wilson’s laundry list of offenses strangely addictive, like studying the ‘Wanted’ posters that hang in the Post Office. As I carried on, however, pleasure slowly gave way to annoyance. Mr. Wilson’s scientific misunderstandings, of which there are many, seem to come straight out of the creationist playbook.
Victorian Mythmaker is a thorough dressing-down, a prolonged hatchet job. Unfortunately, it is also a work of intellectual calumny: a muddle of false claims, willful deceit, and unbridled hostility. Darwin, in Wilson’s telling, was a fraud, a liar, a racist, and a closet eugenicist. Victorian Mythmaker wears a cloak of righteousness but is about as trustworthy as a priest in a Stendhal novel … Wilson’s zeal, like that of most conspiracy theorists, only serves to undermine his case. From a psychological perspective, his portrait of Darwin just doesn’t add up … Wilson wants to persuade us that Darwin’s worldview was a cruel one, blackened with the soot of Victorian iniquity, yet he does so by painting a picture of that worldview that is plainly a caricature.