History of Science

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."

Measuring Eternity: The Search for the Beginning of Time

by Martin Gorst
New York: Broadway Books, 2002. 352 pages.

In Measuring Eternity, Martin Gorst provides a readable and engaging account of attempts to ascertain the age of the world. Ranging from the time of Ussher, La Peyrère, and Burnet all the way to the Hubble Space Telescope, the book provides delightful glimpses of a variety of eccentric characters devoted to the development of a scientific chronology.

The Emergence of Life on Earth: A Historical and Scientific Overview

by Iris Fry
New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000. 344 pages.

Fry, a historian and philosopher of science, offers a unique scholarly perspective on the scientific issues involved in research on the origins of life. In addition to summarizing the history, all the way from Aristotle through Darwin and Pasteur to Oparin, Haldane, and Miller, she examines the contemporary issues and debates within the origin-of-life scientific research community.

Origin of Life

by A. I. Oparin
New York: Dover Publications, 2003. 304 pages.

Inspired by Darwin and Mendeleev, Aleksandr Ivanovich Oparin (1894–1980) was one of the first scientists to propose that the origin of life on earth was preceded by a period of nonbiological molecular evolution.