- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Belknap Press; Reprint edition (September 15, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674884698
- ISBN-13: 978-0674884694
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #172,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World Reprint Edition
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At the age of 93, Ernst Mayr has forgotten more about biology than most people ever learn. Mayr has been more than just an eyewitness to the amazing advances in biological theory and understanding over the century; he was an active participant as well, helping to formulate the combination of Darwinian thought and modern genetics that is the bedrock of today's standard theory of evolution. But biology has always been something of a poor relation to the other physical sciences--subjects such as physics or chemistry that have strict rules of cause and effect and a certain predictability. Biology, on the other hand, is based on a muddle of combined causes, pure chance, and evidence drawn from unrelated areas, yet it is the one science that addresses those aspects of nature that can't be reduced to mere laws of chemistry or physics. In his book This Is Biology, Ernst Mayr sets out to show us how and why.
Though biology is a relatively young science, born in the 19th century, its roots go back to the days of Aristotle; Mayr traces its development from the ancient Greeks to the advent of modern molecular techniques. Woven throughout this history of the science is an explanation of its relation to other sciences and to the humanities, particularly history and ethics. This Is Biology was written with great thought and care and requires the same from its readers; for those interested in the science of life as well as one great man's life in science, this book is the natural selection. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
The author, trained in evolution and ecology, provides an overview of the scientific study of the living world and how biologists do research in an ever-expanding sea of information. His book combines the history of biology with a philosophical perspective, looking at not just the "when" of biology but also the "why." (LJ 3/1/97)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Founder of Literate Scientist Blog
Ernst Walter Mayr (/'ma''r/; 5 July 1904 – 3 February 2005) was one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists. He was also a renowned taxonomist, tropical explorer, ornithologist, philosopher of biology, and historian of science. His work contributed to the conceptual revolution that led to the modern evolutionary synthesis of Mendelian genetics, systematics, and Darwinian evolution, and to the development of the biological species concept.
Although Charles Darwin and others posited that multiple species could evolve from a single common ancestor, the mechanism by which this occurred was not understood, creating the species problem. Ernst Mayr approached the problem with a new definition for species. In his book Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942) he wrote that a species is not just a group of morphologically similar individuals, but a group that can breed only among themselves, excluding all others. When populations within a species become isolated by geography, feeding strategy, mate choice, or other means, they may start to differ from other populations through genetic drift and natural selection, and over time may evolve into new species. The most significant and rapid genetic reorganization occurs in extremely small populations that have been isolated (as on islands).
His theory of peripatric speciation (a more precise form of allopatric speciation which he advanced), based on his work on birds, is still considered a leading mode of speciation, and was the theoretical underpinning for the theory of punctuated equilibrium, proposed by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. Mayr is sometimes credited with inventing modern philosophy of biology, particularly the part related to evolutionary biology, which he distinguished from physics due to its introduction of (natural) history into science.
I create and maintain educational websites, Midwest Independent Research. I have one on life science, mwir-lifesciences blogspot com and one on evolution, mwir evolutionscience blogspot com.
Mayr assumes a great deal about the educational level of his readers, so perhaps the book should should carry a subtitled warning to the unwary.
My sound bite description of the book is The Philosophy of Biology.
It's not about living things per se but about the study of them, with particular emphasis on the way in which the biology is closer to history than it is to areas of science that involve the exploration of universal properties. While the future behavior of subatomic particles and the formation of stars and galaxies may be, to a certain extent, predictable, biology is about what has been, not what will be.
Mayr accepts this, but brilliantly defends biology as a science (is history a science?). Whether you find him convincing depends on how much you respect the force of his conviction, if not the arguments themselves. Mayr's not an easy read and it's not always immediately apparent what points he is making.
Mayr was perhaps the world's greatest living biologist, or at least its most visible, to those who look for such things. Now that he has died, I feel driven to go back for a reread, after which perhaps I'll post another review.