The Edge of Evolution is my book published by Oxford University Press; its subtitle is Animality, Inhumanity, and Doctor Moreau. It’s now in stores and available for ordering on-line! (see links at right)
It’s about human exceptionalism – the notion that humanity is a special thing in any terms at all, with a special role relative to the rest of nature. This notion wears many different guises or is taken to include many different purposes or justifications. I’ve learned, long ago, that refuting it, however sensibly, is a lost cause – instead, I’m simply writing from the opposing viewpoint and seeing what you think.
But that’s all too abstract and I probably lost you already. Let me try again … I’m writing about the old novel (1896), The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H. G. Wells, like so:
- In the late 19th century, the question “what does it mean if people are animals?” received much more attention and explicit emotional stress than it does today. That’s not because it’s been resolved, but because it was swept under the rug, not only in reaction by non-scientists, but by modern biology itself.
- Wells was a student of Thomas Huxley’s and deeply engaged with Huxley’s brilliant final lecture, Evolution & Ethics (1893), when he wrote The Island of Doctor Moreau. It is, in my view, his best and most significant work, catapulting the already mind-blowing lecture material into the realm of drama and explicit ethical crisis.
- Therefore the novel is even more relevant today, with greater barriers to overcome and greater insights to offer, relatively speaking, than ever. I’m writing to rehabilitate it for a new reading, to bring its story and content right into the reader’s lap, bringing that primary question unavoidably into the light.
Check out the Table of Contents and please feel free to ask any questions – I’ll collect them and post a special answer-session at the blog at least once a month.
Tone and style: Probably as good news, I’m not writing to fellow academics. This book is written to the sensible, curious, and slightly-suspicious audience that I’ve been teaching to for the past 25 years. I’ll toss in a sample to show what I mean as soon as the publisher says it’s OK.
Artwork: In the novel’s Chapter 16, Prendick tries to describe the human-animals on the island, and laments that he cannot sketch. Inspired by this line, Mike Hoffman produced a sketchbook of his own, attuned solely to the novel without reference to cinema or prior illustrations. Mike has immeasurably enhanced the power of my book by allowing me the use of his sketches in the book, some of which you’ll see here & there at this website.