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Louis Pasteur Hardcover – August 6, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0801858086 ISBN-10: 0801858089 Edition: 1st
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Louis Pasteur was more than just a man; in the words of his latest biographer he was "a living symbol, embodying both science and France." That's a pretty heavy assessment, but coming from respected French immunologist Patrice Debre, it's certainly credible. Written for the centenary of Pasteur's death, this book is a comprehensive, insightful examination of his life and work, made far more interesting and accessible by the author's natural flair for describing the details of scientific research with simple, compelling prose.

Though it is fashionable to undermine the posthumous reputations of our heroes (and many have gone to work on Pasteur), Debre finds greater value in acknowledging Pasteur's obstinacy and possible data fudging within the much-broader context of the man's incredibly successful working life. By his insistence on practically applying science to real problems, he helped further France's silk and wine industries and greatly reduced the harm of such diseases as anthrax, cholera, and rabies. With all that--and more--to his credit, it seems hardly worthwhile to complain that he may have predetermined some of his experimental results or harbored unreasonable anti-German sentiments, and Debre refuses to judge Pasteur on anything less than his entire life. On that scale, his heroism is beyond doubt. --Rob Lightner

From Library Journal

Biographers are like the characters in the classic Japanese film Rashomon, who each reveal one aspect of the truth when recounting the same event from their unique perspective. Like Gerald Geison's revisionist and controversial The Private Science of Louis Pasteur (LJ 5/1/95), Debr?'s biography was written to mark the centenary of Pasteur's death in 1895. Unlike Geison, who is a historian, Debr? is a practicing scientist, the head of the Immunology Laboratory at the Piti?-Saltp?ti?re Hospital in Paris, and director of a research unit associated with the French National Center for Scientific Research. Drawing heavily on Pasteur's own notebooks and writing, Debr? provides a counterpoint to Geison's book, which had charged Pasteur with scientific misconduct. Writing in an engaging style, he has created a balanced and detailed account of Pasteur's personal and professional life. Debr? clearly understands the difficulties of trying to get one's peers to accept changes to established procedures and practices even when science supports these changes. Highly recommended for undergraduate, graduate, and general readers.AJames Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 600 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (August 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801858089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801858086
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,211,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ninian on December 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I found the English translation so interesting that I could not put it down. I wish the book had been available when I started my own education. The author does an excellent job of relating the research of Pasteur to his historical setting. Pasteur was the model scientist and the author reveals this on page after page. This book should be required reading for students interested in any aspect of science. A well-worn copy of this book should be on the shelf of anyone interested in pursuing a career in science.
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Debre's biography of Pasteur is thorough and well-written. The reader sees both the incredible intuitive and experimental genius of the man along with his arrogance and tendency at times to make the data fit the hypothesis. This is a more well-rounded biography of Pasteur's life compared to Gerald Geison's biography - The Secret Science of Louis Pasteur - which I also read. Geison's book shows how far Pasteur would go, especially later in his life, to insure his scientific fame and to ignore unfortunate results. However, Debre also covers these traits of Pasteur but puts them into a different context. Debre spells out in detail Pasteur taking credit for his assistant's work at times. But, relativism aside, it is difficult to judge what he did in modern terms since the master-apprentice relationship in the 19th century was one of a dominance in the laboratory unheard of today. And if there ever was a "master" of the lab, it was the obsessive Pasteur. Debre does not excuse Pasteur but he also gives us a more thorough understanding of the cultural context. A more serious issue is the rabies vaccine. The rabies vaccinations, which Geison upbraids Pasteur for in a couple ways, are put into a different context by Debre. Debre presents the early vaccinations as a choice between a patient likely to get rabies and a vaccine only partially tested. A terrible decision but one we can understand. Geison, like Pasteur's medical assistant Roux, argues that the vaccinations were hasty and probably unjustified and the vaccine was far more untested and hypothetical than Pasteur publicly claimed. Pasteur's motives are seriously questioned.Read more ›
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ralph White on December 16, 2009
Format: Paperback
You bought this book because you wanted some insight into the life of the "father of microbiology." You wanted to see, in particular, whether his genius was carefully nurtured or if it arose spontaneously. You will be disappointed, and the reasons may never be clear. When a book translated from a foreign language under-achieves its objectives and leaves the reader unsatisfied, it is never clear if the fault lies with the author or the translator. Elborg Forster's translation of Patrice Debré's ambitious work has two closely-related problems. The first problem which the reader encounters is the density of the language. The ponderous syntax of the French intellectual is preserved in Forster's prose, and it does not work as well in English. The second problem is that either the author or the translator is not sufficiently scientifically literate to be able to explain Pasteur's original contributions. For example, Chapter Two provides a great discussion of "isomorphism," without ever explaining what the formal mathematical term means in the context of the growth of crystals. Also, speaking of "left-handed" and "right-handed" crystals, without informing the reader of how the terms are used, renders the meaning inaccessible to even the scientifically literate reader. Considering the amount of scholarship which obviously went into the book, it would have been worth the modicum of effort necessary to welcome the reader rather than challenge him. It's a shame. Such a great man; such a weak book.
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