If you like science, you may have read a bit of Charles Darwin’s writing. Janet Browne, on the other hand, has read every bit of Charles Darwin’s writing: books, notes, stray jottings, and more than 14,000 letters exchanged by the principal founder of evolutionary biology.
“I spent a long time with him,” says Browne, a historian of science acclaimed for her two-volume biography of Darwin, published in 1995 and 2002. “Darwin was in my computer.”
That closeness has paid off. The first volume, “Charles Darwin: Voyaging,” was called definitive by the late Harvard biologist Ernst Mayr, while the second, “Charles Darwin: The Power of Place,” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for biography.
Now Browne is doing some voyaging of her own. After two decades at University College London , she began teaching at Harvard this spring. Why the move? Many academics have material reasons to cross the Atlantic, but Browne cites Harvard’s intellectual atmosphere and strong tradition in the history of biology, and she says a postdoctoral year she spent at Harvard in the 1970s was “an eye-opener, the most exciting thing I had done in my life until then.”