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Human Biology 75.5 (2003) 777-779
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Biologists and the Promise of American Life from Meriwether Lewis to Alfred Kinsey, by Philip J. Pauly. Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press, 200l. 313 pp. ISBN 0-691-04977-7. $29.95 (cloth).
The author of this ambitious but curiously incomplete effort, Philip J. Pauly, has earned well-deserved plaudits for his admirable biography, Controlling Life: Jacques Loeb and the Engineering Ideal in Biology (1987). Pauly has been a member of the Department of History at Rutgers University for more than a decade, and, given the caliber of scholarship in what he has produced, the wonder is that he is only listed as an Associate Professor. Most of what he covers in Biologists and the Promise of American Life is backed up by full control of the work and writings of the figures under discussion, familiarity with the archives of preserved correspondence, and the treatments of previous scholarly analysts. Every fact noted is meticulously backed up by footnotes, although in a manner widely used by historians that is guaranteed to give indigestion to those who find the various scientific usages more convenient.1
Another somewhat annoying habit is Pauly's tendency to leave out the middle name or initial of a figure who, at the time, was actually referred to by all three names. In his long and thoughtful treatment of Spencer Fullerton Baird, Joseph Henry's successor as Secretary of the Smithsonian and the impetus behind the construction of the National Museum, Baird is referred to as Spencer Baird. Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, Agassiz's successor at the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard, is called simply Nathaniel Shaler. The 'aggressive' philosopher Arthur Lovejoy is really Arthur O. Lovejoy, but I had to check the footnote to see if that was really the case. To be sure, the ichthyologist and first Stanford President, David Starr Jordan, is never called just David Jordan, and Major John Wesley Powell is never called simply John Powell, but Henry Fairfield Osborn is rendered as Henry F. Osborn.
If the title of the volume initially puzzles the reader, Pauly makes a fine case that basic biological understanding was long recognized as being of importance to Americans anxious to make effective use of the resources of the continent which they were acquiring. President Thomas Jefferson fully understood this [End Page 777] when he sent Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on an exploring and collecting expedition across the country and back between 1804 and 1806. The subsequent and somewhat flaky treatment of the botanical information that they acquired is well handled in Pauly's account, although the reasons that the material was taken to Philadelphia and its role in the founding of American paleontology are left out.
Pauly has chosen to depict the tensions in the growth of American biology by stressing the competition between university biology, especially that present at Harvard, and government biology, as represented at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. What gets left out in this is the position of preeminence of Philadelphia during the first half of the 19th century. The Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science, the American Philosophical Society, and the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology barely get mentioned. The Sheffield Scientific School at Yale is mentioned once in passing, and, although the American Journal of Science and the Arts—known through much of the century as "Silliman's Journal"—does play its role, particularly in the wrangles over Darwin between Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz, its founding editor, Benjamin Silliman, and his son and successor, Benjamin Silliman, Jr., are entirely absent from this account (Brown 1989).
The increasingly acrimonious clash between Agassiz and Gray at Harvard is well done, but the genesis of Agassiz's polygenism is left out completely. Agassiz was an orthodox monogenist when he came to America in 1846. Before he was to deliver his Lowell lectures, he had expressed a desire to meet America's most distinguished scientist, Samuel George Morton of Philadelphia, a figure mentioned only once in passing in...