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BOOK REVIEWS The Origins of Theoretical Population Genetics. By William B. Provine. The Chicago History of Science and Medicine, edited by Allen G. Debus. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971- Pp. xi + 201. $7.75. A former colleague of mine recommended that space should be made in the departmental library by relegating books and periodicals several years old to dead storage. "I read nothing published more than two or three years ago," he said pridefully. This is, to be sure, an extreme case. However, lack of interest in the history of their science is a rule rather than an exception among "modern" biologists . The book under review may stimulate such interest. Its author is a historian of science who knows enough biology to become a professional biologist if he would wish to do so. The felicity of his style makes the book equally readable to biologists with at least a trace of interest in history, and to historians with at least a trace of interest in biology. He forgoes technicalities without sacrificing accuracy; his characterizations of the scientists whose work he describes are brief but sufficient to make them real persons rather than merely names, but not so chatty as to become mere gossip. My major criticism is that the title of the book is not descriptive of its contents. Theoretical population genetics is mainly mathematical exercise; pencil and paper (and nowadays computers, rather than experimental animals and plants, are the chief sources of information. To be sure, the fifth (and last) chapter of the book treats mathematical studies of R. A. Fisher, Sewall Wright, and J. B. S. Haldane, who laid the theoretical foundations of the modern biological theory of evolution. However, the book as a whole is concerned with the growth of understanding of the causes of evolutionary changes. This understanding is traced from Darwin, through Galton, Mendel, and the early twentiethcentury Mendelians; the acrimonious controversy of Bateson with Pearson and the school of biometricians, Johannsen, Jennings, Castle, Morgan, and his school; and on to the Fisher-Wright-Haldane trio. Some readers may accuse the author of Anglo-American chauvinism, since he largely ignores the contributions of nonEnglish -writing authors. The bibliography has only six titles in German, the remainder being in English. The author knows that Chetverikov published "in 1927 a very important paper" (the real date is 1926, not 1927), but blandly disregards it because "by the time this paper was known in England and the United States, the theoretical constructs erected by Fisher, Haldane and Wright had progressed beyond it." Many other European authors do not rate even this much attention. Otherwise, the author is judicious and fair throughout. Looked at from the vantage point of our present understanding, some of the early conceptions and controversies seem wildly unwarranted and confused. How, for example, could Mendelism and the discovery of mutations be construed as disproving Darwin ? It is the business of a historian to understand such things by temporarily Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ยท Summer 1972 | 645 denying to himself the benefits of hindsight. Our misguided predecessors are dren seen to have been no less smart than we are; this is a lesson in humility which is grossly deficient in many of us. The history of the studies of the causes of evolution contains many zigzags and blind alleys, and this makes it particularly interesting and instructive. Provine's book is a good guide. Theodosius Dobzhansky Department of Genetics University of California, Davis A History of Medicine. Edited by Lester S. King. History of Science Readings. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1971. Pp. 316. $5.75. This is a well-selected collection of readings. Part 1, "The Classical Heritage," includes "Airs, Waters, Places" and "The Sacred Disease" by Hippocrates and "On the Natural Faculties" by Galen. Part 2, "Revolt," includes "De Corporis Fabrica (1543)" by Vesalius, "Volumen Medicinae Paramirum (?1529)" by Paracelsus, and "Movement of the Heart and Blood in Animals" by William Harvey. Part 3, "Development," is made up of eleven classical papers from 1676 to 1849. Part 4, "Fruition," consists of papers by Virchow, Claude Bernard, Robert Koch, Walter Reed, Banting and Best, and Simon and Harley. The scholarly introduction and sketches by the editor...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 645-646
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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