EC -- Biological Sciences

Darwin & Co.: eine Geschichte der Biologie in Portraits [Darwin & Co.: A History of Biology in Portraits]. Ed. Ilse Jahn and Michael Schmitt. 2 vols. München: Beck, 2001. 552, 574 p. ill. 23 cm. ISBN 3-406-44642-6 (set): EUR 59.50 [02-1-191]

Ilse Jahn’s significant publication Geschichte der Biologie [History of Biology] was reviewed in RREA 5:247. Together with Michael Schmitt and the help of numerous authors, she has now published a new contribution to the history of science, constructed on the basis of individual life portraits. The research of the 52 important biologists brought together here strongly influenced the development of biology from the 18th to the 20th century, starting with Carl von Linné and ending with Barbara McClintock. It is a pity that the work of only two women is highlighted. In addition to McClintock, Elena Aleksandrovna Timoféef-Ressovsky appears, but only in conjunction with her husband—perhaps a reflection of the fact that independent access to the male domain of science was impossible in her day. Mention might have been made of a series of female researchers who accomplished great things even in the shadow of their superiors or husbands; just one example is Hilde Mangold (1898–1924), whose experiments contributed significantly to the success of Hans Spemann (1869–1941), the first zoologist to receive the Nobel Prize. Living researchers are not found here, the argument being that necessary “distance” and “objectivity” are required. Even under those terms, one could quibble with the absence of certain researchers, such as Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1901–1972), founder of modern theoretical biology, or Nikolaas (Niko) Tinbergen (1908–1988), famous animal behavior specialist and 1973 Nobel Prize winner. Each entry begins with an introductory summary and a photo or portrait, followed by a narrative of the person’s life and scientific career, with a final section evaluating the significance of the work. Differing approaches of the various biographers can truly be said to reflect the diversity of thought and research directions among the biologists themselves, and the links between scientific work and personal lives are fascinating. A comprehensive source index leads to the most important publications of the researchers and to secondary literature, while a personal name index closes out the volume. Some of the essays would have benefitted from more careful editorial attention. The title itself, Darwin & Co., seems to detract from the seriousness of the contents. In the final analysis, though, this collection of portraits opens a magnificent window into the history of biology. [jr/rdh]

Enzyklopädie der Gartengehölze [Encyclopedia of Cultivated Shrubs and Trees]. Andreas Bärtels. Stuttgart: Ulmer, 2001. 800 p. ill. 27 cm. ISBN 3-8001-3198-6: EUR 149.00 [02-1-192]

This thorough encyclopedia, written by a well-known author of horticultural works, exhaustively describes some 12,000 trees and shrubs, including their climate ranges, favored habitats, and necessary care. About 1,430 color photos illustrate the work, which weighs in at more than six pounds. Of central and western European origin, 3,200 plants are hybrids, while 8,800 are other varieties cultivated to be frost-tolerant. Only the too numerous varieties of roses and rhododendrons are very sensibly limited to German ones. The encyclopedia includes a comprehensive introduction to dendrology. A substantial bibliography and a useful index of German plant names (the encyclopedia is organized alphabetically by scientific name) complete the work. It is unfortunate that the excellent content is reproduced in very small print (8 point) and at such a high cost. Since much of the information is contained in other, less expensive, publications, it might be wise to wait to purchase this encyclopedia until it has been republished in a more affordable edition. [jr/hsb]

Die große Larousse-Natur-Enzyklopädie: das umfassende Nachschlagewerk über das Leben auf der Erde [The Larousse Encyclopedia of Nature: Comprehensive Reference Work of Life on Earth]. Ed. BG Buch und Redaktionsbüro Ulrich Gohl; transl. (from the French) Michael C. Sternheimer Group. Bindlach: Gondrom, 2002. 863 p. ill. 29 cm. Uniform title: Encyclopédie Larousse de la nature. ISBN 3-8112-1997-9: EUR 22.95 [02-2-488]

The basis of this work are the original two French volumes published by Larousse in 1993, and the German translation published by Das Beste in 1996 under the title Das Große Buch des Allgemeinwissens—Natur. It is now appearing with a slightly altered title as a licensed edition by Gondrom. This latest incarnation, Große Larousse-Natur-Enzyklopädie, claims to answer all of the basic questions concerning life on earth in one volume, and although it doesn’t quite live up to this standard, it does provide a solid basis of knowledge and outstanding graphics. What is lacking are in-depth explorations of the topics, a systematic overview of plants and animals genera, and their expected and necessary Latin names. The photographs, drawings, tables, and maps are excellent, as is the comprehensive index. This title is recommended for academic libraries. [jr/ldb]

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Last update: March 6, 2006 [BG]
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