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Biologists and the Promise of American Life Hardcover – November 15, 2000

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691049777
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691049779
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,027,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"A tantalizing and ambitious study that places American biologists squarely in the middle of national, social political, and economic development . . .Pauly has an elegant writing style that makes this book a pleasure to read. . . . A remarkable vision of the place of science in American life that will be enjoyed by historians and scientists alike."--Audra J. Wolfe, Science

"Ambitious in its scope . . . Pauly's book grafts the stories of local and regional communities of scientists onto a narrative stock of national improvement and progress. . . . [A] valuable contribution to the local and regional history of biology in American culture."--Gregg Mitman, American Scientist

"This book is a significant contribution to the worthy task of integrating the history of science and American history."--Christine Keiner, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine

"An engaging, intelligent, and challenging study. . . . It is a masterful narrative that raises fascinating and thought-provoking issues."--Otniel E. Dror, Journal of the History of Medicine

"Here, at last, is a book that skillfully narrates stories from the biological sciences in ways that demonstrate their connection to other aspects of American culture. An important book."--Sally Gergory Kohlestedt, The Journal of American History

"A wonderful book about biologists and their work on the American continent. . . . Biologists and the Promise of American Life is an important and well-crafted contribution to American history."--John L. Rudolph, History of Education Quarterly

"Biologists and the Promise of American Life offers a fascinating overview of the development of American biology from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the second World War."--Gerald J. Fitzgerald, Environmental History

"Biologists and the Promise of American Life . . . is extremely well researched, it is very well written, and it provides many interesting historical insights while, at the same time, it asks many provocative questions. Pauly's new work will become the standard text for overviews of American biology from the early nineteenth century until the Second World War."--Keith R. Benson, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"An engaging history that will be valued by both specialists and general readers. . . . The treatment of people is insightful and sympathetic. In a series of vignettes Pauly captures each person's essential qualities--and eccentricities--and shows how in diverse ways they expressed the many varieties of American experience. . . . While covering vast ground, he engages the reader's attention by keeping the individuals in clear focus."--Sharon Kingsland, Isis

"In this thoughtful and gracefully written book, Pauly shows how American biologists in the first half of the twentieth century took on the project of developing the science of biology in the United States as a cultural project. . . . He shows us a world of scientists deeply engaged in a project that they understand as simultaneously moral, social, political, and thoroughly scientific."--Naomi Oreskes, Journal of the History of Behavioral Science

"A useful and thought-provoking contribution to the understanding of the role of a natural science--biology--in shaping the culture of the modern world."--Maciej Henneberg, Journal of Biosocial Science

From the Inside Flap

"There is no book that covers quite the same territory and places this cluster of internal disciplinary issues in a larger institutional and cultural/political context. Philip Pauly is well informed about current scholarship and has a good eye for the telling quotation or incident."--Charles E. Rosenberg, University of Pennsylvania

"This is a stunning book both for the courage, ambition, and vision of its topic and for the solid style of its achievement."--Mary P. Winsor, University of Toronto

"Philip Pauly is a first-rate American historian, one of the most imaginative writers today. He is not just a historian of science, but rather a historian of the ways that science plays out in American culture and society. Biologists and the Promise of American Life is an excellent and important book that will reach a wide audience--it will be useful for scholars and classrooms alike, and entice historians of science to expand their perspective. And its fun to read, with a good mix of stories, personalities, practices, resources, and references."--Jane Maienschein, Arizona State University

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 16, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book, with its great scope and complicated objectives, could not help but fall short in some aspects. Some of his historical analogies (the Grey/Agassiz conflict and the civil war) are a bit of a stretch, and the information on nearly all the scientists leaves the reader wanting. Nonetheless, this book covers an extremely broad range of topics, people...the type above the title says it all--"From Meriwether Lewis to Alfred Kinsey". This is obviously not going to be extremely in depth on many subjects. The chapter on biology's integration into the high schools is by far the best section of the book. A book that fulfills a specific niche admirably if not terribly enthrallingly.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Baick on September 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is a terrific addition to the history of American modernity. It does assume a solid grasp of the basic narrative of the times, and is therefore suitable for upper-level college classes and graduate students rather than general readers. What is crucial about this book is Pauly's description of how scientists operate on paths that do not always converge with mainstream American life, but who nonetheless have a disproportionate impact of how we see the world. One example of this is Pauly's brilliant observation that all the attention to the Scopes Trial is missing a key point--the "question" of evolution was already decided by those who wrote the science textbooks of the day. Considering how science is being undermined by political forces today, Pauly's book is quite relevant in understanding how science shapes--and is shaped--by society.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want a book that is simple to read, this isn't the book you should be looking at. This book is written how a (non-science) graduate student would write formal papers to their Ph.D superiors—long sentences, tons of sourcing, jumps back-and-forth to different people (which means the time is also changing as well), not straight-to-the-point, assumes a "basic" knowledge of its readers. VERY BORING. Every time I attempted to read it, I would read a passage and ask myself, what did I just get out of that paragraph (,nothing)—or I would just fall asleep. The book so far is just boring drama between power hungry plant-lovers. If the class I was taking suddenly stops "teaching"/using this book as a subject, this book is going in my collection of book that I will never finish. Save yourself some money and don't get this book (unless you are a history major). If you want info on how botany affected the US, read some personal journals of the scientists or just use wiki. If you do decide to pick up this book, make a timeline when you read this so you can tell the time periods when the author changes the person of interest.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Sage Ross on April 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Pauly tries to assign an historical importance to American biologists that simply doesn't exists. He claims that they have significantly influenced American culture, but his examples are narrow in scope and unconvincing. Pauly is a champion of biologists, as you would expect from a historian of biology, but he goes too far. Biologists have largely been a tool in shaping American culture, rather than a motive force as Pauly claims.

(The above review was written in 2000. Four years later, I have revised my judgement on Pauly's thesis; biologists have been a force in some significant ways, though perhaps not to the extent Pauly argues. However, this book is too broad to be convincing in its examples, unless the reader already has a moderate grasp of the history of biology in America.)
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