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The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  171 ratings  ·  10 reviews
No one in this century can speak with greater authority on the progress of ideas in biology than Ernst Mayr. And no book has ever established the life sciences so firmly in the mainstream of Western intellectual history as The Growth of Biological Thought. Ten years in preparation, this is a work of epic proportions, tracing the development of the major problems of biology ...more
Paperback, 974 pages
Published January 22nd 1985 by Belknap Press (first published 1982)
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James F
Feb 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is a conceptual history of evolutionary biology, divided into three parts, on the history of systematics, the history of evolutionary theory, and the history of genetics. The author was himself one of the founders of the modern "evolutionary synthesis", so his account is very authoritative.

He says in the introduction that he may be "accused" of writing a textbook of biology disguised as a history; in fact I did learn a great deal of biology I hadn't known previously from the book. It
William Bies
Jan 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Perhaps more so than in other fields, in the hard sciences for instance, the student of biology stands to profit from the history of scientific investigation. For the stunning successes in physics do have the trait of being so explanatorily satisfactory that they sweep away earlier, provisional accomplishments. As Thomas Kuhn aptly observes in his groundbreaking Structure of scientific revolutions, the apprentice scientist, during the normal phase at least, can get up to speed and become an ...more
Jan 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy-texts
A very thorough and intricately researched text, this is an outstanding overview of the history of biological and evolutionary thought ranging from Aristotle to late 20th century views. Mayr provides clear discussion of relevant issues and broad conceptual overviews in ways that are helpful and (sometimes) interesting. At times Mayr gets very detailed with regards to historical debates, and provides a fairly unbiased view of both sides (much of the time). At times, however, Mayr's attention to ...more
Sep 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biology
Yeah well, to be frank, I haven't really finished this book. It's SUPER-EXTRA-THICK, tracing the growth of biological thought (well, of course: it's in the title), and it's like some sort of Bible to me - I can check it time and again if there is something I need to know, from Aristoteles to Darwin, from Harvey to Simpson...

Just amazing. An unparalleled feat.
Jan 08, 2009 rated it liked it
I can't ever really say I enjoyed a huge science textbook (especially with no pictures!), but Mayr's book was fairly easy to read and understand and was VERY thorough, even if he is a little defensive about biology the entire time.
Mark Bowles
Aug 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A historical context is often required for a complete understanding of scientific controversies within a field. In the discipline of biology, such a book did not exist until Ernst Mayr wrote The Growth of Biological Thought; Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. This book attempts to fill this gap in the literature and provide a history of ideas of biology. Prior studies in the history of biology focused on lives on biologists' and discoveries, yet they did not analyze the major concepts, ...more
Alan Clark
Nov 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very thorough and interesting, although I did skip a few pages where it told me more than I wanted to know. The English is not too difficult, but could have been plainer.

Mayr does go astray a little where he criticises some biologists, especially Richard Dawkins, for the idea that it is the single gene rather than the whole gene pool that is the unit of selection. However, reading "The Selfish Gene", (Immortal Coils chapter) shows that Dawkins is aware that the whole gene pool must be considered
Tran Trung
evolution, diversity, inheritance in biology
Paul Bauer
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece.
Nov 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
A pleasant little book in case you have a few hours to spare.
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For the computer scientist, see Ernst Wilhelm Meyr

Ernst Walter Mayr (July 5, 1904 – February 3, 2005) was one of the 20th century's leading evolutionary biologists. He was also a renowned taxonomist, tropical explorer, ornithologist, and historian of science. His work contributed to the conceptual revolution that led to the modern evolutionary synthesis of Mendelian genetics, systematics, and
“Generalizations in biology are almost invariably of a probabilistic nature. As one wit has formulated it, there is only one universal law in biology: 'All biological laws have exceptions.' This probabilistic conceptualization contrasts strikingly with the view during the early period of the scientific revolution that causation in nature is regulated by laws that can be stated in mathematical terms. Actually, this idea occurred apparently first to Pythagoras. It has remained a dominant idea, particularly in the physical sciences, up to the present day. Again and again it was made the basis of some comprehensive philosophy, but taking very different forms in the hands of various authors. With Plato it gave rise to essentialism, with Galileo to a mechanistic world picture, and with Descartes to the deductive method. All three philosophies had a fundamental impact on biology.” 1 likes
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