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The Tragic Sense of Life

by Robert J Richards
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. 551 pages.

Subtitled "Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought," The Tragic Sense of Life offers not only a biography of Haeckel, who was the foremost champion on evolution in Germany before World War I, but also a meticulous examination of his impact on biology and politics. The reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement writes, "The Tragic Sense of Life is an immensely impressive work of biography and intellectual history, and a fitting testament to a complex and contradictory character, a 'polymorphic scientist-artist-adventurer'.

Huxley: From Devil's Disciple to Evolution's High Priest

by Adrian Desmond
New York: Basic Books, 1999. 848 pages.

A lively and definitive biography of Thomas Henry Huxley. Not merely Darwin's bulldog, Huxley was also instrumental in promoting the public understanding of science and in establishing science as a profession. Writes the reviewer for the New York Times Book Review, "Desmond moves briskly and wittily through the entertaining events of Huxley's life ...

Buffon: A Life in Natural History

by Jacques Roger
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997. 492 pages.

"If a man's destiny were written in his origins or his heredity, Buffon would have died president of the Burgundy parlement," Jacques Roger begins his biography of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon and the premier French scientist of the Enlightenment. "That he had a passion for the sciences and became the greatest French naturalist is a sort of joke of nature, the result of a personal calling, and ultimately inexplicable." The reviewer for American Zoologist wrote, "Buffon is a work of great charm, interest, and importance.

Erasmus Darwin: A Life of Unequalled Achievement

by Desmond King-Hele
London: Giles de La Mare, 1999. 448 pages.

Physician, botanist, inventor, physiologist, and poet, the polymath Erasmus Darwin is also noteworthy for anticipating the scientific theory of evolution — complete with a recognition of the fossil record, the reality of extinction, and the immense age of the earth. The reviewer for Nature wrote of Desmond King-Hele's thorough biography, "Few scientific lives have ever been so carefully and thoughtfully examined.

The Spirit of System: Lamarck and Evolutionary Biology

by Richard W Burkhardt Jr
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. 320 pages.

A definitive study of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, often credited as the first scientist to develop a truly coherent evolutionary theory, Richard W Burkhardt Jr's The Spirit of System considers Lamarck and his achievements in their own context, rather than as a mere, and misguided, anticipation of Darwin. Praising the revised edition, Michael Ruse wrote, "The Spirit of System was a classic from its first appearance. It was and still is simply the definitive account of the great French founder of evolutionary biology. ...

Linnaeus: The Compleat Naturalist

by Wilfrid Blunt
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. 288 pages.

Lavishly illustrated and enlivened by a host of vivid passages from Linnaeus's own work, Wilfrid Blunt's biography, originally published in 1971, gives a fascinating and rounded portrait of the developer of the Systema Naturae, Linnaeus's ambitious and seminal project of systematic taxonomy. The eminent botanist William T Stearn provides an introduction and an appendix on Linnaean classification, nomenclature, and method. "This evocative account of Linnaeus's life and achievements has become a natural history classic," writes Janet Browne.

Terrible Lizard: The First Dinosaur Hunters and the Birth of a New Science

by Deborah Cadbury
New York: Henry Holt & Company, 2001. 374 pages.

An exciting recounting of the 19th-century discovery of the dinosaurs, featuring such characters as Mary Anning, William Buckland, Georges Cuvier, Richard Owen, Gideon Mantell, and Charles Lyell. Carl Zimmer writes, "Cadbury ... turns what could have been just a string of anecdotes into high drama. Much of her success comes from her depth of research: she has scoured diaries, letters and newspaper archives and can tell her story in the words of the people who lived it."

The Dating Game: One Man's Search for the Age of the Earth

by Cherry Lewis
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 272 pages.

"It is perhaps a little indelicate to ask of our mother Earth her age, but Science acknowledges no shame." So quipped Arthur Holmes, one of the major figures in the history of attempts to determine the age of the earth, and the subject of Cherry Lewis's lively biography, The Dating Game. The reviewer for Earth Sciences History writes, "it is always a pleasure — and alas, not a common pleasure — to read a really well-written geological biography.

The Map that Changed the World

by Simon Winchester
New York: Harper Perennial, 2002. 352 pages.

In The Map that Changed the World, Simon Winchester tells the practically Dickensian story of William Smith and his struggle to create what was arguably the first true geological map. Winchester writes, "Geology, it seems almost redundant to say, underlies and underpins everything: the site of every city, every gold mine, every field, every island is determined purely by geology — and humanity's condition is more directly influenced by geology than by any other aspect of the natural world.

The Seashell on the Mountaintop

by Alan Cutler
New York: Dutton Adult, 2003. 240 pages.

A new book about Niels Stensen (1638-86) — Nicolaus Stenonius in Latin, or Steno for short — the Danish anatomist-turned-geologist who was arguably the founder of the science of geology. Writing in The New York Times, NCSE President Kevin Padian praised Cutler "for making one think about what qualifies as an explanation, and for exploring the endless debates that mix strands of partial knowledge with the need to reconcile religious testaments."


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