This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Paperback)
  • This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Paperback)

This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World (Paperback)

Paperback 352 Pages
Published: 15/09/1998
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Biology until recently has been the neglected stepchild of science, and many educated people have little grasp of how biology explains the natural world. Yet to address the major political and moral questions that face us today, we must acquire an understanding of their biological roots. This magisterial new book by Ernst Mayr will go far to remedy this situation. An eyewitness to this century's relentless biological advance and the creator of some of its most important concepts, Mayr is uniquely qualified to offer a vision of science that places biology firmly at the center, and a vision of biology that restores the primacy of holistic, evolutionary thinking.

As he argues persuasively, the physical sciences cannot address many aspects of nature that are unique to life. Living organisms must be understood at every level of organization; they cannot be reduced to the laws of physics and chemistry. Mayr's approach is refreshingly at odds with the reductionist thinking that dominated scientific research earlier in this century, and will help to redirect how people think about the natural world.

This Is Biology can also be read as a "life history" of the discipline--from its roots in the work of Aristotle, through its dormancy during the Scientific Revolution and its flowering in the hands of Darwin, to its spectacular growth with the advent of molecular techniques. Mayr maps out the territorial overlap between biology and the humanities, especially history and ethics, and carefully describes important distinctions between science and other systems of thought, including theology. Both as an overview of the sciences of life and as the culmination of a remarkable life in science, This Is Biology will richly reward professionals and general readers alike.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674884694
Number of pages: 352
Weight: 472 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


[A] lovely book...[It] is a long essay on how biologists study living things on the large scale of organisms and their families. Its range is enormous...This is an old-fashioned book, to be read slowly, more than once, and to be thought about afterward. Isn't that what books are for--so that people can, at their leisure, consider the hard-learned thoughts of a beautifully educated, smart old man? - Ann Finkbeiner, New York Times Book Review

As would be expected from Mayr, the text achieves considerable richness and depth. Academic readers will appreciate a sophisticated level of cross-disciplinary analysis, and all readers will enjoy a lucid style of presentation...This is Biology is yet another illustration of one of Mayr's most celebrated talents: his power to transform a vast amount of complex knowledge into its engaging and illuminating essence. As a product, the science of biology is left in clear perspective and is liberated from many stereotypical attributes that are traditionally associated with science as a whole. Practising professionals and students alike should benefit immeasurably from reading this book. - Barnaby Marsh, The Ibis

Another many-faceted gem from the Sage of twentieth century biology. A readable life history and philosophy of biology, this original composite of science and scholarship illuminates every aspect of its great subject. Not least, it simply demolishes the millennial myth of 'the end of science.' - Robert K. Merton

Ernst Mayr has done it again. In a graceful style that replaces the arcane with the clear, he presents the structure of the diverse biological disciplines in a historical and philosophical frame that does not evade the issue of hominid evolution and its unique moral characteristics. Loyal fans of this eminent scholar will find themselves smiling at the beauty and wisdom in this synthesis of fact and ideas. - Jerome Kagan

Mayr, emeritus professor of zoology at Harvard and a major contributor to contemporary evolutionary understanding, manages to condense the involved history of biological thought into this treatise. - Publishers Weekly

In this brief and very readable book, one of the grand masters of twentieth-century biology sums up the personal wisdom accumulated during seventy years of research and reflection. - Edward O. Wilson

Ernst Mayr, the world's greatest living evolutionary biologist and a writer of extraordinary insight and clarity, gives us, in the tenth decade of his own rich life, his distillation of a full career spent in thought and study of his favorite subject. - Stephen Jay Gould

This Is Biology is an excellent attempt on Mayr's part to bring biology to a common focus and to help define what characteristics distinguish living systems from inanimate matter. This is an extremely well-thought-out and eminently scholarly work. It will be of significant value to those who wish to understand the philosophical underpinnings of biology, how biological questions are addressed, how the various subdisciplines came into existence, and how they are related. It is also a very personal work due, in no small part, to Mayr's own seminal contributions over the years to several biological topics. - Mitchell K. Hobish, Science Books and Films

We are fortunate that one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century has taken the time to set down his reflections on biology as he has seen it develop for the last three-quarters of a century. Mayr is not afraid to tackle the difficult issues of a definition of life, a description of the modern theory of evolution, punctuated equilibrium, ontologic recapitulation, sociobiology, cladistics, and the descent of man, to name a few...This is an erudite, carefully reasoned account of what a naturalist considers to constitute biology penned by one of the great evolutionary biologists of the century. It is well worth a read. - J. Edward Rall, M.D., Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

He is acknowledged to be one of the great zoologists of the 20th century. His contributions to evolutionary biology have been recognised by a dazzling collection of the world's most prestigious scientific awards...Now 92, Ernst Mayr has written a wide-ranging review of biological thought and progress. In part, This Is Biology is a study of the philosophy of biology, and in part a history of selected branches of the subject...This is a magisterial account of biology, by a great biologist. - R. McNeill Alexander, New Scientist

[Mayr's] summary of the early history of evolution is excellent, particularly of Darwin's monumental contribution. His analysis of the concept of speciation, a key feature of evolution, is excellent and he has contributed much to this area...The most interesting chapter raises questions about the relationship between ethics and evolution. - Lewis Wolpert, Times Higher Education Supplement

In this wide-ranging book, Ernst Mayr, one of the doyens of evolutionary biology, raises many important questions about the nature of biological research. He examines them in a scholarly yet approachable way...This is a book designed to make one think...Mayr raises the fascinating question of how we humans have been able to change our society so remarkably in the past thousands of years--occupying many niches of climate and geography--without much change in our gene pool. It is just one of the many unanswered questions that course through his fertile brain and have found an outlet in this volume. - David Baltimore, Nature

In this deeply thought-provoking book, [Mayr] records his thoughts about the philosophical underpinnings of his beloved field of biology and muses about some of the changes he sees coming as his colleagues delve more deeply into both the molecular basis of life and the complex web of interacting agents that make up the global ecosystem...[I]n the last few chapters, Mayr moves to a more speculative mode and addresses himself to questions such as the place that humanity has in the grand evolutionary scheme, and the question of whether there is a sense in which human ethical systems can be accounted for by evolution...I wouldn't dream of spoiling your fun by trying to summarize Mayr's complex and well-thought-out views on these [questions]...The book covers so many topics that there is something here for everyone. - James Trefil, Boston Globe

This Is Biology...explicates the field as only this historian, philosopher and biologist could. - Carol Kaesuk Yoon, New York Times

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