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Reviewed by:
  • Paul Ehrlich: Leben, Forschung, Ökonomien, Netzwerke
  • Arthur M. Silverstein
Axel C. Hüntelmann . Paul Ehrlich: Leben, Forschung, Ökonomien, Netzwerke. Göttingen, Germany: Wallstein Verlag, 2011. 390 pp. Ill. €29.90 (978-3-8353-0867-1).

There have been many biographies written about the famous German scientist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Ehrlich, some by admirers and others by scientists analyzing one or another of the many fields of biomedical research to which Ehrlich made seminal contributions. But Hüntelmann's contribution is unique in several respects: it is probably the best researched, it is elegantly written, and it is written by one whose principal interests appear to lie in the sociology of science. Thus, this is less the detailed story of scientific advances than a sociological analysis of the bases for a scientific success story.

Part I tells the story of Ehrlich's life in broad strokes, from his birth in 1854. Various chapters describe his youth and schooling; his time as assistant physician at the Charité Hospital in Berlin (1878-85); a period (1885-91) when he worked primarily as a clinician until he opened a private research laboratory; his research [End Page 511] at Robert Koch's Institute for Infectious Diseases (1891-95); his establishment of his own Institute for Serum Research and Serum Testing (1896-99); and finally his service as director of an Institute for Experimental Therapy in Frankfurt, which he directed until his death in 1915.

In the course of these major steps, the author outlines Ehrlich's principal scientific achievements: his landmark contributions to histologic staining; his hematological studies on anemias and the discovery of mast cells; his immunological standardization of diphtheria toxin and antitoxin, studies on milk antibodies, and side-chain theory of antibody formation; his work on transplantable tumors; and finally his introduction of a scientifically based pharmacology as exemplified by his development of Salvarsan therapy for syphilis.

Part II of the volume is devoted to Ehrlich's modus operandi as a researcher and institute director. The author presents in great detail the nature of the social and financial supports that Ehrlich received from family, friends, and the political and social/philanthropic organizations that existed in the turn-of-the-century German Reich. Especially significant were the various networks with which Ehrlich interacted, all important to his activities: his extended family, the "invisible colleges" of domestic and foreign scientists in many different fields of biology and medicine, and especially his connections with those industrial firms that provided many of the chemicals and biologicals with which he worked. But despite multiple quotations from personal letters to and from Ehrlich and his wife, this biography—like all others before it—describes well Ehrlich the scientist but fails to give one a feel for Ehrlich the private man, the husband, the father, the citizen—in brief, his nonscientific life. Perhaps there was only "Ehrlich the scientist"?

With the possible exception of the Salvarsan story, none of the other areas of Ehrlich's scientific activities is dealt with in detail—only the most prominent highlights are mentioned. Rather, the author has chosen to concentrate more on how Ehrlich managed his often-complicated research enterprise, taking advantage of the many Ehrlich-related archival collections. Thus, there are multiple references to and extracts from official and unofficial correspondence, from memoires, and from the earlier broad literature on the subject. The author has chosen to dispense with footnote references; these are included in sometimes complex parenthetical insertions within the text itself, which occasionally interfere with the textual flow. We may note also that the volume provides a name index but suffers from the lack of a subject index.

One of the important contributions of this volume, not shared by earlier biographies, is the author's familiarity with the social and political developments in Germany, which he suggests made Ehrlich's career possible. The post-Napoleonic era in Germany saw the spread of a Jewish enlightenment and a relative reduction in anti-Semitism, which, if not yet permitting the appointment of Jews to university chairs, at least allowed Ehrlich to go to medical school, to succeed as a scientist, and to be appointed director of a state-sponsored...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3176
Print ISSN
0007-5140
Pages
pp. 511-513
Launched on MUSE
2011-11-10
Open Access
No
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