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The Man Who Invented the Chromosome: A Life of Cyril Darlington Hardcover – July 15, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


Highly original and brilliantly accomplished, this is the first scholarly biography of Darlington and a richly effective one. Harman has based it on Darlington's diaries, letters, and other papers, on extensive reading in other primary sources, and on authoritative knowledge of the secondary literature. The author wears his learning lightly, deftly integrating his research into a highly readable, engaging, and lucid narrative. It will surely find an appreciative audience among geneticists, evolutionary biologists, and cytologists as well as among historians of those fields and of eugenics. (Daniel J. Kevles, author of The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character)

Darlington's archives are a rich seam to which Oren Solomon Harman brings a keen eye. He combines impressive contextual knowledge with touches of biographical flair. (Marek Kohn New Scientist 2004-10-09)

Cyril Darlington was the leading cytologist in Britain between 1930 and 1950, and a major figure in the British genetics community, as well-known for his cantankerous personality as for his science...Overall, Harman has done an excellent job of portraying Darlington's stormy personal and scientific life, bringing out his flaws as well as his achievements. (Brian Charlesworth Nature Medicine 2004-10-01)

As Oren Solomon Harman shows in The Man Who Invented the Chromosome, Darlington's controversial cytological research clarified many basic biological issues and provided essential evidence for the evolutionary synthesis of the 1940s. He 'invented' the chromosome by describing its behaviour in a way that made genetic and evolutionary sense...A strong commitment to an evolutionary perspective led Darlington to some unpopular conclusions, which he published in books and articles aimed at a wide audience. Convinced that biological principles, especially genetics, dictate human values, he espoused strong eugenic programmes...He felt that the time had come for science to determine morality: religion and politics should be replaced by evolutionary logic for individuals, countries and humanity...Harman provides a cautionary tale for those who seek to tie our humanity too closely to what is found in our chromosomes. (Rena Selya Nature 2004-09-30)

Harman's brilliant book--the first and, almost surely, the definitive biography--wrests the earlier Darlington from the later crank, recovering him as a human being and restoring him to scientific eminence. Drawing on Darlington's voluminous papers, correspondence, and diaries, Harman recounts the personal odyssey that took his subject from a bleak childhood to high achievement in the new genetics; his scientific and political engagements, particularly his differences over Lysenko with his fellow biologists, many of them on the left; and his slide into the cantankerous biological conservatism that marked his later years. Harman writes in supple prose and with capacious discernment, providing a portrait of the man that is at once empathetic and critical, a study in character and personality that illuminates his science as well as his personal and professional lives. (Daniel J. Kevles New Republic 2005-05-02)

Harman does a good job of explaining the complex intellectual and technical problems in genetics and cytology and helps us understand the central importance of cytology to the modern conception of genes and genetic processes…This book clearly fills a void. Darlington should be better known, to both historians and scientists alike…This is a book that nobody who is interested in the history of twentieth-century genetics can afford to overlook. (Manfred D. Laubichler, PhD Journal of the History of Medicine)

About the Author

Oren Solomon Harman is Lady Davis Fellow at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Lecturer at Bar-Ilan University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 342 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (June 15, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013336
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013339
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,737,357 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Donald B. Siano on October 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This biography of Cyril Darlington is of a renowned scientist who enjoyed a long career, first as a microscopist exploring the workings of the chromosome, then as a leader in the fight against Lamarckism, Lysenkoism, Marxism, and suppositions on the equality of men. His early career was built primarily on a book, "Recent Advances in Cytology" which brought together a coherent picture of the chromosomes and their role in evolution. Perhaps a key insight, new with him, was that though the chromosomes contained the hereditary information, they could be understood better by seeing how evolution affected them as well.

Darlington was a confirmed materialist, hard headed scientist, but was positively attracted by controversy, and a rather intolerant, arrogant character to boot. He had many enemies, but was a forceful and prominent public voice, who relished his role. This combination makes for a lively biography, and deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in the history of the development of the "modern synthesis" of evolutionary thought. He was a driving force for much of it.

Darlington was during the 1940's to the 1980's a sort of early version of Richard Dawkins, and was opposed for many years by JBS Haldane, who was a sort of early version of Stephen Jay Gould. Many of the controversies, being rooted in deep-seated views of human nature, have hardly changed. There is the Marxist version of a faith in the malleability of man by wishful thinking, opposed by hard lessons drawn from science, evolutionary theory and the observation that man is a creature acting in accordance with hereditary behaviors which have developed differently in different races.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. O.E. Sidis on September 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Harman has produced one of the deepest books about biology and evolution I have encountered in over 30 years of more-than- amateur interest in the field. He has been able to pinpoint the true paradoxes of life: foresight versus randomness, the individual versus the group, the past as against the future. And he has done so with a wonderful pen: understated, deeply intelligent, deeply modest. I believe that while lesser intellects may not comprend its true value, really smart people will recognize it as nothing short of a brilliant book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Human Evolutionary Geneticist on February 12, 2010
Format: Hardcover
About forty years ago, my scientific journey as a geneticist started with the study of chromosomes. My very first adviser had studied under Dr. Gates - a colleague of C. D. Darlington (CDD). My adviser always admired CDD, his incisive mind and often mentioned CDD's eccentricity. For some odd reason, I lost interest in cytogenetics and became more interested in population genetics. Now, out of curiosity I picked up this book and read it with great pleasure. It was truly a page-turner. The pettiness and politics among the original pathfinders of genetics (which has since become central to biology), is sprinkled everywhere. Further, his attempts to bring cytology, genetics and evolution together was appreciated by only a few. Unfortunately, it has remained unchanged even to this day! I congratulate the author on his tremendous success. I rediscovered the creative genius of CDD through this book. Additionally, it is great to know that the term "telomere" was coined by CDD (it was wrongly attributed to Muller and McClintock), for which Blackburn and her team won the last year's Nobel. Similarly, the present interest in structural variation could be traced directly to CDD. I was also shocked to find that he thought so clearly about "levels of selection," for which Lewontin gets the credit. In short, it is a sin that genetics and evolution community in general has relegated him to relative obscurity (only accuses him only as a eugenist). The biographer has done not only a justice to CDD's genius, but also rendered a great service to the science of genetics and evolutionary biology.
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Format: Hardcover
I am not a scientist, but very much enjoy biographies. I read this book on a friend's recommendation, and literally could not stop turning the pages. Darlington, the man and the scientist, is truly brought to life on these pages.
I found the story behind Harman's `unlikely scientific hero' consistently engaging. The author does a superb job of seamlessly weaving together the many colorful strands of the social and scientific fabric that served as backdrop to Darlington's life. With Harman as a guide, the reader gains a unique first-hand appreciation for Darlington's days, reliving them as heady times for genetics in particular and for society as a whole.
A must-read for all those in the know. Amongst the best biographies I have come across.
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