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This fascinating volume resulted from one man's frustration with the series of whitewashed obituaries and laudations he had to endure in his long career in West Germany. These were often of biologists who had worked in the Third Reich, a period generally skipped over in such eulogies. Dr Eugeniusz Nowak, born in Poland in 1933, therefore decided to do some historical research of his own. His series of controversial 'alternative' biographies of mainly German biologists in various journals soon grew into a successful book, with German, Russian and Polish editions. Now at last translated into English, this revised and updated volume contains over 40 brief lives, illustrated by 113 often dramatic photographs. It uses material gathered from dozens of Central European archives only accessible since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. What makes Biologists in the Age of Totalitarianism so gripping is its personal element; Dr Nowak, with his contacts on both sides of the Iron Curtain, either knew these scientists personally or interviewed family members and colleagues. We see here how these victims (and perpetrators) were caught in the ideological nets of Nazism, Stalinism or Maoism, and how their lives were changed utterly by political forces beyond their control. As such, this book represents essential reading for those interested in the personal stories at the interface of totalitarian politics and biological science.
In the 1950s, Eugeniusz Nowak conducted his postgraduate research in Berlin under the supervision of Erwin Stresemann, then the most famous scientific ornithologist in Europe. He completed his Magister in Berlin, then after gaining his PhD while working as a lecturer in the Department of Zoology at Warsaw University, his interest shifted to wetlands. In the early 1960s, he worked at Slimbridge, England, at the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB) as part of the team that eventually created the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance in 1971, better known as the Ramsar Convention. He later moved to West Germany, where he worked in the Federal Research Institute for Nature Conservation and Landscape Ecology in Bonn, and was involved in the drafting of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (the Bonn Convention). Later, and until his retirement, Dr Nowak was a scientific advisor at the UNEP Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, also in Bonn. His publications at this time were mainly technical papers on bird and landscape conservation or concerned with Polish and German ornithological history. After his retirement in 1998, he began to produce a series of often controversial short biographies.
" This is a depressing but necessary and useful volume. Depressing, because it is an ornithological version of Mary Fullbrook's Reckonings: Legacies of Nazi Persecution and the Quest for Justice (2018, Oxford University Press), that she described as ‘a horrible book to write’. This too must have sometimes been a difficult volume to research and write. [...] This is a necessary book, not least because as the editor points out, ‘when we look at the world today we might be experiencing the beginning of new kinds of totalitarianism in the forms of increasing intolerance, mistrust of science and the uncertain long-tem effects of the accelerating digitisation of our lives’. This is also an extremely useful book for anyone contemplating a history of recent European ornithology."
– T.R. Birkhead, Ibis 161(4), October 2019