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Trials of the Monkey

An Accidental Memoir

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"When Darwin called his second book The Descent of Man instead of The Ascent of Man he was thinking of his progeny."

So declares Darwin's great-great grandson Matthew Chapman as he leaves behind his stressful career as a Hollywood screenwriter and travels to Dayton, Tennessee where in 1925 creationist opposition to the teaching of evolution in schools was played out in a famous legal drama, the Scopes Trial.

The purpose of this journey is to see if opinions have changed in the seventy- five intervening years. A defiant atheist, Chapman is confronted not only by the fundamentalist beliefs that continue to banish the theory of evolution but by his own spiritual malaise as the outward journey becomes an inward quest, a tragicomic "accidental memoir".

"First there was Charles Darwin, two yards long and nobody's fool. Then there was his son, my great-grandfather, Sir Francis Darwin, an eminent botanist. Then came my grandmother Frances, a modest poet who spent a considerable amount of time in rest-homes for depression From her issued my beloved mother, Clare, who was extremely short, failed to complete medical school, and eventually became an alcoholic. Then we get down to me. I'm in the movie business."

Trials of the Monkey combines travel writing and reportage, as Chapman records his encounters in the South, with history and the accidental memoir of a man full of mid-life doubts in a genre-breaking first book that is darkly funny, provocative and poignant.

From Publishers Weekly

Jul 30, 2001 – A screenwriter and the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin, Chapman heads to Dayton, Tenn., the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. As a longstanding atheist, he intends to write a sardonic cultural update of Southern Fundamentalist Christianity. But to his surprise, and the reader's delight, the book takes on a power of its own. This first-time author has written an honest, ironic autobiography that traces the development of a boyish wise guy into a complex man of letters. In an account that stands in favorable comparison to the best examples of eccentric English autobiography, such as the work of Robert Graves and Anthony Burgess, Chapman weaves the story of his life of advantage and distinguished intellectual pedigree in England, New York City and Hollywood with a travelogue into an unknown realm, misperceived to be inhabited by hillbillies. The incongruous encounters and anecdotes, moving between past and present, meld into an insightful study of a man trying to make sense of it all. Stories from the author's rebellious youth, unconventional family constellation and contemporary life are juxtaposed with images of caustic trends in modern society and Southern idiosyncrasies. The result is an absorbing and finely honed journal of courageous, often amusing self-awareness which moves from a posture of extreme skepticism regarding the possibility of the divine to a more open-minded, appreciative stance regarding the possible sacred meaning(s) of life.
Trials of the Monkey
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  • $7.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: United States
  • Published: Apr 01, 2007
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
  • Print Length: 352 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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