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What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline

By: Ernst Mayr(Author)

232 pages, no illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | Jun 2007 | #165668 | ISBN-13: 9780521700344
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £24.99 $32/€28 approx
Hardback | Oct 2004 | #147390 | ISBN: 0521841143
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £56.99 $74/€65 approx

About this book

What Makes Biology Unique?, a collection of essays written by the most eminent evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century, explores biology as an autonomous science, offers insights on the history of evolutionary thought, critiques the contributions of philosophy to the science of biology, and comments on several of the major ongoing issues in evolutionary theory. Notably, Mayr explains that Darwin's theory of evolution is actually five separate theories, each with its own history, trajectory and impact. Natural selection is a separate idea from common descent, and from geographic speciation, and so on. A number of the perennial Darwinian controversies may well have been caused by the confounding of the five separate theories into a single composite. Those interested in evolutionary theory, or the philosophy and history of science will find useful ideas in What Makes Biology Unique?, which should appeal to virtually anyone with a broad curiosity about biology.

"In this first book of the second century of his long career, the biologist Ernst Mayr at age 100 has given us his reflections on the most interesting and important questions about life: why living things can't be understood just as very complex machines, how humans evolved, why we haven't yet communicated with any extraterrestrials, and others. Written with a clarity and vigor that shine from every page, this book is best summarized in one word: exciting!"
- Jared Diamond, UCLA, author of Guns, Germs and Steel (Pulitzer Prize, 1998)

"Ernst Mayr has long had a deep and well-informed interest in the philosophy of biology in relation to broad questions in the philosophy of science. This is an invaluable, thought-provoking, and engaging summary of his ideas, a crowning achievement!"
- Mary Jane West-Eberhard, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, author of Developmental Plasticity and Evolution (Hawkins Award, 2003)

"His essays reflect the recent literature as much as can be expected, given their broad scope, but their greatest virtue is their historical and conceptual depth. Not only has Mayr been a major force for much of the history of evolutionary theory, but he is also a philosopher nd a scholar of the old school who believes in tracing ideas to their roots."
- David Sloan Wilson, American Scientist

"[...] an excellent firsthand overview of his philosophy of biology [...] I admire his clear and elegant writing as well as his insights into biology and philosophy [...] I am convinced that What Makes Biology Unique? will be loved by those who are curious about biology [...] I only regret not having this excellent little book in my pocket during my first research in the tropics."
- Matthias Glaubrecht, Science Magazine

"As with all of Ernst Mayr's writings, the prose is crisp, clear and interesting [...] it is a good place to start – both for thinking about biology as a science and as an introduction to the ideas and perceptions of one of the great scientists of the 20th century."
- BioEssays

"[...] this excellent book will help many molecular biologists understand the underlying structure of mainstream evolution much better."
- European Molecular Biology Organization

"[...] a valuable summary of the thoughts of one of the best known evolutionary biologists."
- Ibis



1. Science and sciences
2. The autonomy of biology
3. Teleology
4. Analysis or reductionism
5. Darwin's influence on modern thought
6. Darwin's five theories of evolution
7. Maturation of Darwinism
8. Selection
9. Do Thomas Kuhn's scientific revolutions take place?
10. Another look at the species problem
11. The origin of human
12. Are we alone in this vast universe?

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Ernst Mayr (1904–2005) was Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University. For his contributions as an evolutionary biologist, taxonomist, ornithologist, as well as historian and philosopher of biology, Mayr was hailed as 'he Darwin of the 20th century'.

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