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A Guinea Pig's History of Biology: The Plants and Animals Who Taught Us the Facts of Life

Popular Science

By: Jim Endersby

544 pages, Figs

Harvard University Press

Paperback | May 2009 | #179399 | ISBN-13: 9780674032279
Availability: Usually dispatched within 4 days Details
NHBS Price: £15.95 $21/€18 approx

About this book

Endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved, Darwin famously concluded The Origin of Species, and for confirmation we look to...the guinea pig? How this curious creature and others as humble (and as fast-breeding) have helped unlock the mystery of inheritance is the unlikely story Jim Endersby tells in this book.

Biology today promises everything from better foods or cures for common diseases to the alarming prospect of redesigning life itself. Looking at the organisms that have made all this possible gives us a new way of understanding how we got here - and perhaps of thinking about where we're going. Instead of a history of which great scientists had which great ideas, this story of passionflowers and hawkweeds, of zebra fish and viruses, offers a bird's (or rodent's) eye view of the work that makes science possible.

Mixing the celebrities of genetics, like the fruit fly, with forgotten players such as the evening primrose, the book follows the unfolding history of biological inheritance from Aristotle's search for the "universal, absolute truth of fishiness" to the apparently absurd speculations of eighteenth-century natural philosophers to the spectacular findings of our day - which may prove to be the absurdities of tomorrow.

The result is a quirky, enlightening, and thoroughly engaging perspective on the history of heredity and genetics, tracing the slow, uncertain path - complete with entertaining diversions and dead ends - that led us from the ancient world's understanding of inheritance to modern genetics.

I completely enjoyed reading this historical account of the progression of molecular biology over the past two centuries. Dry and dull "geek-speak"? Hardly. It reads like a work of fiction, complete with fascinating narratives and quirky bits of detail. Clearly the author put a great deal of effort into thoroughly investigating and communicating both the scientific and human sides of this topic...Dr. Endersby does a fascinating job of connecting society and science in this historical account of scientific progress over the last 200 years. He underlines the fact that no matter how objective scientists may try to be, they are working within social and political environments that are guiding their thought processes whether they realize it or not. -- Wendy Tymchuk "Discovery"


Preface and acknowledgements 1. Equus quaggaand Lord Morton's mare 2. Passiflora gracilis: Inside Darwin's greenhouse 3. Homo sapiens: Francis Galton's fairground attraction 4. Hieracium auricula: What Mendel did next 5. Oenothera lamarckiana: Hugo de Vries led up the primrose path 6. Drosophila melanogaster: Bananas, bottles and Bolsheviks 7. Cavia porcellus: Mathematical guinea pigs 8. Bacteriophage: The virus that revealed DNA 9. Zea mays: Incorrigible corn 10. Arabidopsis thaliana: A fruit fly for the botanists 11. Danio rerio: Seeing through zebrafish 12. OncoMouse(r): Engineering organisms Bibliography, sources and notes Index

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Dr. Jim Endersby is a lecturer in the History Department at the University of Sussex. He was most recently an affiliated lecturer in the Department of the History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University.

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