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Species: A History of the Idea (Species and Systematics) Hardcover – September 8, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0520260856 ISBN-10: 0520260856 Edition: 0th

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Species: A History of the Idea (Species and Systematics) + The Species Problem: A Philosophical Analysis (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology) + The Species Problem, Biological Species, Ontology, and the Metaphysics of Biology
Price for all three: $161.88

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Product Details

  • Series: Species and Systematics
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520260856
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520260856
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“The most comprehensive, encyclopedic account of the history of the thinking about species. . . . Truly impressive.”
(Science & Education 2012-04-10)

“The most comprehensive work of its kind. It will appeal to students in a diverse set of disciplines. . . . Highly recommended.”
(Choice 2010-07-08)

“Provides a comprehensive and interesting synthesis of the species problem today in the context of changing ideologies through history.”
(Journal Of Human Evolution Blog 2010-07-06)

“Provides a thorough background in this important topic. . . . A valuable resource.”
(Nsta Recommends 2009-12-09)

“No other book provides this kind of comprehensive, historical account of the thinking about species. As reference work, this book is impressive."
(Int'l History, Philosophy, & Science Teaching Group Newsletter 2012-04-23)

“A useful source for literature, ideas, and history of the topic.”
(James Mallet Integrative & Comparative Bio (Sicb) 2010-07-23)

“Provides an encyclopedic history of the idea of species from Plato to the present.”
(Darwinian Conservatism Blog 2009-09-17)

“[A] congenial book.”
(Oxford Journal 2011-04-12)

From the Inside Flap

"Few topics have engaged biologists and philosophers more than the concept of species, and arguably no idea is more important for evolutionary science. John S. Wilkins' book combines meticulous historical and philosophical analysis and thus provides new insights on the development of this most enduring of subjects."—Joel Cracraft, American Museum of Natural History

"This is not the potted history that one usually finds in texts and review articles. It is a fresh look at the history of a field central to biology, but one whose centrality has changed in scope over the centuries. Wilkins' book will be a standard source for all kinds of people working in systematics. There is not another book on the subject, amazingly enough, and his perspective is so comprehensive and well-taught that it will replace any standard review articles and older histories."—Kevin Padian, University of California, Berkeley

"An essential sourcebook for anyone interested in the species problem and the history of 'species.' Wilkins does a wonderful job detangling the various uses of 'species.' His book brings clarity to a topic marked by confusion and ambiguity."—Marc Ereshefsky, author of The Poverty of Linnaean Hierarchy: A Philosophical Study of Biological Taxonomy

More About the Author

John S. Wilkins is Honorary Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and has researched and taught at the University of Sydney, the University of Queensland, and the University of New South Wales. He works on evolution and religion, the philosophy of taxonomy, and the history of biology. He has published on cognition, cultural evolution, the philosophy of science, and on science communication.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By William Reich on August 8, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm not a biologist or a philosopher but I found this book extremely interesting and it helped me with a couple of questions that I have been thinking about. Not by _answering_ them, of course, but by bringing up new questions.

I wanted some clues to the question of whether the red wolf of North America is a species or simply a hybrid between the coyote and the gray wolf. Wilkins didn't address this question directly, as who would expect him to. However, he did mention that a species _could_ arize through hybridization, or at least it could under some definitions of species.

And I wanted to know if grizzly bear is the name of a sub-species of brown bear or simply a descriptive term for those brown bears who live in the uplands of the new world. Wilkins didn't address this question directly but it was clear to me after reading his book that grizzly bear cannot be the name of a sub-species unless they all derive from one population of coastal/lowland brown bears. If several populations of lowland brown bears each gave rise to a population of upland bears in the nearest high country, as I think may be true, then they are not a subspecies.

In general, Wilkins discussed the history of the term species, beginning with the ancients who used the term for varieties of mineral as well as life forms, up to the present. He was willing to take on authority figures in the field. He seems to believe that species are real, in that one can observe them, and that the conept is useful, although not rock-solid.

He didn't waste a great deal of time on trivial matters of human origins. And his use of the language was fine,although he is an Australian.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Marc Andre Lachance on June 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Wilkins takes us through a time journey from the age of the early Greek philosophers to the current era of evolutionary biology, dissecting the idea of species (and genus). This book is a must-read for those who aspire to competence in biological systematics. We are reminded of the pervasive notion of the Scala Naturae and its impact on Linnean, Lamarckian, and even contemporary thinking. This is contrasted with the unique insights of Darwin, who, according to the author, created the modern species concept while at the same time giving the impression of denying the existence of species as a special taxonomic category. The views of Dobzhansky, Mayr, and Hennig are examined in a new light. My only reason for not giving 5 stars is the occasional bad sentence. The book would have greatly benefited from a close reading by a style editor.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Richard W. Nelson on March 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you are looking for a fast and easy reading book that concludes with a contemporary definition of the term "species," Species a History of the Idea is not the book for you.

If you are looking for a detailed history of all the major and minor players with their contributions in the search for essence of the term "species," Species a History of the Idea is definitely the book for you.

The following quote from the Preface is illustrative of the overall style of the book:

"In summary, then, we have three claims that this book is intended to demonstrate: the logical and natural species are distinct ideas that largely share only a term; there was a single species `concept' from antiquity to the arrival of genetics, the generative conception; and types are neither the same as essences nor something that changes much with Darwin."

While the reading is difficult, the material is an indispensible resource in the forensic search for the historical essence of the term "species."

Richard William Nelson

Darwin, Then and Now: The Most Amazing Story in the History of Science
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