- Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (August 15, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0226712168
- ISBN-13: 978-0226712161
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.7 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,736,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought Reprint Edition
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"This is a brilliant book.... It is intellectually brilliant, offering an account of Haeckel as driven by tragic failures in love that colored his view of life. And the book is brilliant scholarship, drawing on a wide range of sources to paint a quite different picture of Haeckel's work than other scholars have achieved." - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences "An excellent, well-illustrated, and scholarly biography of Haeckel." - Andrew Robinson, Financial Times "The Tragic Sense of Life is an immensely impressive work of biography and intellectual history, and a fitting testament to a complex and contradictory character.... Richards succeeds brilliantly in reestablishing Haeckel as a significant scientist and a major figure in the history of evolutionary thought." - P. D. Smith, Times Literary Supplement"
About the Author
Robert J. Richards is the Morris Fishbein Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago and the author, most recently, of The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Haeckel also generated quite a lot of controversy, and still does. For one thing, he was highly combative, probably eclipsing Huxley as "Darwin's bulldog." He was seen as attacking religion by his advocacy of evolutionary principles. Most importantly, Haeckel was accused of scientific fraud by his use of certain embroyo illustrations in his publications, where it was alleged he doctored the illustrations to comply with his theories. This debate has continued until the present day as well. The book, among other things, is a 540 page refutation of these allegations--a brief for the defense. Nonetheless, to me it appears at a minimum that Haeckel exercised some bad judgment in this area. Equally significant, a more damning charge continues to be asserted that because of Haeckel's interest in eugenics, he helped lay the foundation for Nazi policies. All of this is discussed analytically and carefully by the author, especially in Appendix II on the "moral grammar" of such charges against Haeckel. Finally, Haeckel alienated most everybody outside Germany by joining in defenses of Germany and attacks on England relating to who caused the First War. All and all, Haeckel was no shrinking violet and relished the opportunity to "mix it up" with opponents.
I have been able to touch upon only some of the highlights covered in this fine book. But there are many other fascinating elements as well, such as Haeckel's reliance upon the linguistic studies of August Schleicher to buttress his defense of Darwin; his interactions with Erich Wasmann, the "Jesuit evolutionist"; and his visits with Darwin himself. Only occasionally does the science get a bit heavy here; the author writes with clarity and insight in such a way that I had difficulties only in a couple of places. The book is superbly researched, including stints by the author (a professor of the history of science at Chicago) at the Haeckel Haus and the University in Jena where Haeckel spent most of his professional career. There is a 27-page bibliography of archival and printed sources and a comprehensive index. In addition to the full color pages mentioned above, there are exceedingly helpful illustrations throughout which allow the reader carefully to follow the author's discussion of points. And bless the gods, there are footnotes at the base of the page. The book is beautifuly produced by the University of Chicago Press, which has published an outstanding series of books on 19th century science/intellectual history, and is to be commended. This is quite a book and it opens many cans of interesting worms.