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On Growth and Form Paperback – July 31, 1992

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Book Description

Why do living things and physical phenomena take the forms they do? Analyzing the mathematical and physical aspects of biological processes, this historic work, first published in 1917, has become renowned as well for the poetry of is descriptions.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 346 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; Abridged edition (July 31, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521437768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521437769
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,063,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Don't get me wrong -- "On Growth and Form" is one of my absolute top favorite books of all time. Possibly my favorite book, in fact. This review is a warning to make sure you get the right imprint.

Unfortunately some publishers think that they know better than D'Arcy Thompson, and cut out more than half of the original material. After all, nobody these days actually looks at equations, right? Well I do, and the pathetic edition by Canto (368 pages) weighs with less than 33% of the material in the modern unexpurgated reprint by Dover (1116 pages).

Amazingly enough, the redacted Canto version costs nearly the same as the Dover complete. If you care about this material, take care to get all of it.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I ordered the book, I didn't even realize the edition was abridged. The book arrived suspiciously smaller than I expected it, almost half size. I thought maybe my memory deceived me, but apparently no.

In the introduction of the editor, Mr. John Tyler Bonner, is so kind as to explain that he mistook a classic book on organism and form, for a scientific one. In order to make the book accessible to general public (who said it was not?) and to "correct" Mr. D'Arcy's writing, Mr. Bonner removed the "dangerous" chapters with "vague" (always according to him) arguments, and the "out-of-date" material, and finally to turned D'Arcy's book into his own.

What I want to clarify is that I am not giving two stars to Mr. D'Arcy's book, for this book I did not read. Instead I am giving 2 stars to Mr. Bonner, to Cambridge University Press, to Canto and to Amazon (for not noting this is an abridged piece of work) for destroying a classic.

REMINDER: THE BOOK IS ABRIDGED EDITION, and the editor not so great
Comment 28 of 29 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
I, too, am a longtime fan of D'Arcy Thompson's endearing (enduring) classic. I've read the discussion. I appreciate very much that Golan Levin, in "Canto: An unfortunate redaction of a timeless classic," and others as well, have made it clear to Amazon customers that the Canto (Cambridge University Press) version of this book is radically abridged, as compared to Dover's (apparently) unabridged edition. This kind of comparative information--about a book's being published under different editions, and what those editions contain--is the kind of crucial info which, as things stand, we customers have to contribute.

It's unfortunate, if understandable, that the bulk of the laudatory reviews here don't specify which edition these people read. Some of them appear to be from scientists and/or mathematicians: they are, perhaps, readers of the unabridged version. Viktor Blasjo's 5-star review *does* specify: he reports from the Dover unabridged, and a great report it is, too. He convinced me to pick up a copy.

Other reviewers seem to have come to D'Arcy Thompson from a more varied background, for their words remind me of my own experience: I first read this book at the age of 19, breathlessly turning the pages, filled to the brim with a sense of growing wonder about what science could do. In Thompson's hands, science opened up the secrets of Nature, right before my eyes. I'd read a fair amount of literature for my age, so from a more sophisticated angle, I relished the many passages of elegant writing--charmingly earnest, sometimes almost passionate. (Thompson's literary excellence comes in spurts, folks, so be patient.) "On Growth and Form" came, in time, to have a big influence on me: I'd been on the fence about science vs.
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Format: Paperback
Most biologists have heard of D'Arcy Thompson's famous book, and have seen his drawings that show how apparently different animals -- fish, for example -- can be transformed into one another by distorting the coordinate system. Sometimes a simple skewing or stretching will suffice, but in other cases more complicated transformations are needed. Few, however, have read the book, and few realize that the famous drawings come right at the end of a long and detailed argument in which D'Arcy Thompson establishes the importance of purely physical considerations in deciding the forms taken by organisms.

D'Arcy Thompson was not opposed to the idea of natural selection, and recognized that it was part of the explanation of evolution. However, he was writing at the beginning of the 20th century at a time when he felt that natural selection was regarded as the complete and only explanation of evolution, and he wanted to show that it wasn't as simple as that. In a modern book, Richard Dawkins's "The Ancestor's Tale", we can read that "Animal shapes are malleable like plasticine. A fish can change in evolutionary time to whatever unfishy shape is required for its way of life." This is the point of view that D'Arcy Thompson considered exaggerated, because he argued that there are many physical constraints that limit this infinite malleability (less, perhaps, for animals that live in the water than for land animals that must take account of gravity, but real nonetheless). He shows that many features of animals must and do obey the same rules as those followed by engineers in designing bridges.

D'Arcy Thompson's style is quite unlike any other -- "scholarly" would be an understatement -- and much of the book can be read for the pleasure of the language.
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