The Coral Thief, By Rebecca Stott

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The Independent Culture

As Gillian Beer showed in Darwin's Plots, the narrative of evolution and the evolution of narrative went hand in hand in Britain from the early days of "natural selection".

Recent writers, Ruth Padel to Tracy Chevalier, have continued to dig rich factual fictions out of science's records. Rebecca Stott goes down a separate path.

Keenly researched, lovingly decorated, brimming with ideas but never short on character or charm, her novel takes as its focus not Darwin but his French predecessors.

In Paris in 1815, young medic Daniel enters the scholarly and political ferment around Cuvier and his colleagues. Proving her case that time can make "a web or a net or a branching tree", Stott traces and peoples one less familiar line in the genealogy of great ideas.