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The Huxleys

An Intimate History of Evolution

Two hundred years of modern science and culture told through one family history.

This momentous biography tells the story of the Huxleys: the Victorian natural historian T. H. Huxley (“Darwin’s Bulldog”) and his grandson, the scientist, conservationist, and zoologist Julian Huxley. Between them, they communicated to the world the great modern story of the theory of evolution by natural selection. In The Huxleys, celebrated historian Alison Bashford writes seamlessly about these omnivorous intellects together, almost as if they were a single man whose long, vital life bookended the colossal shifts in world history from the age of sail to the Space Age, and from colonial wars to world wars to the cold war.

The Huxleys’ specialty was evolution in all its forms—at the grandest level of species, deep time, the Earth, and at the most personal and intimate. They illuminated the problems and wonders of the modern world and they fundamentally shaped how we see ourselves, as individuals and as a species.

But perhaps their greatest subject was themselves. Bashford’s engaging, brilliantly ambitious book interweaves the Huxleys’ momentous public achievements with their private triumphs and tragedies. The result is the history of a family, but also a history of humanity grappling with its place in nature. This book shows how much we owe—for better or worse—to the unceasing curiosity, self-absorption, and enthusiasms of a small, strange group of men and women.

576 pages | 69 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2022

Biography and Letters

History: History of Ideas

History of Science


"Bashford’s book is an intriguing hybrid. A deeply researched biography of Thomas Henry, Julian, and the wider Huxley family, the result of close examination of their writings and correspondence, it also serves as an intellectual history of Britain through the radical shifts in science and society that gave birth to modernity."

The Guardian

"Generates some illuminating parallels. . . . Bashford includes some excellent stories about both men. . . . Both Huxleys would have appreciated the breadth of Bashford’s research and her skill at explaining heavyweight scientific ideas with a light touch"

Literary Review

"An Intimate History of Evolution is a masterpiece of biography."

The New Statesman

"Ambitious... The Huxleys spans a century and a half, combining the stories of two English pioneers of rational scientific inquiry who helped transform public understanding of the origins of life. Together, they comprised ‘a modern-day scientific Janus, the Roman god who could look backwards and forwards, as well as inside and outside, simultaneously.’ A large claim, particularly in the case of two men who had little time for gods... Marked out by the twin poles of the Huxleys’ curricula vitae, it is also a biography of ideas, using one family’s history to explore the development of theories about generations, genealogy and genes, chronicling shifting attitudes to religion, race, women, and animal experimentation—from morphology to ethology."

Financial Times

“Packed with insights into the brilliance of three generations of the Huxley family, Bashford’s book tells a magnificent story about the huge personalities and shortcomings that propelled evolutionary science and much else besides. Male and female, from Victorian patriarch to zoo director, authors, lovers, and poets: the pages dance with accounts of contemporary literature, psychology, politics, anthropology, religion, and art.”

Janet Browne, author of "Charles Darwin: A Biography" and "The Quotable Darwin"

"Full of surprises on every page, this book makes you wonder why all history can’t have the engaging intimacy of a novel. Bashford brilliantly marries intellectual history with the story of four generations of a great family in a literary tour de force."

Jim Secord, author of "Visions of Science"

“Bashford has crafted a masterful biography of Thomas Henry Huxley, patriarch of an evolutionary dynasty, his inheritor and grandson Julian, and the families that sustained them. Interweaving their public contributions to science and private poems, she deftly charts a generational quest to understand and articulate the human condition.”

Erika Lorraine Milam, author of "Creatures of Cain"

"This beautifully crafted double biography of Thomas Huxley and his grandson Julian is full of wonderful surprises and profound generational insights, revealing what it means to put a public face to scientific controversy at two very different points in history."

Cathy Gere, University of California, San Diego

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Author’s Note on Names
The Huxley Family Tree
Part I     Genealogies
1 Generations: The Huxleys, 1825–1975
2 Trustees of Evolution: The Intellectual Inheritance
3 Malady of Thought: Huxley Minds and Souls
Part II     Animals
4 Creatures of the Sea and Sky
5 Animal Politics: From Cruelty to Conservation
6 Primates: Apes and the Huxleys
Part III     Humans
7 The Man Family: Sapiens of the Deep Past
8 Human Difference: Sapiens in the Political Present
9 Transhumans: Sapiens of the Eugenic Future
Part IV     Spirits
10 Other Worlds: The Re-enchantment of the Huxleys
Epilogue: Birth, Death, Afterlives

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