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Biology was formed into one coherent single science only within living memory. In this volume the thinkers responsible for the "modern synthesis" of evolutionary biology and genetics come together to analyze that remarkable event. In a new preface, Ernst Mayr calls attention to the fact that scientists in different biological disciplines differed considerably in their degree of acceptance of Darwin's theories. Mayr shows us that these differences were played out in four separate periods between 1859 and 1947 - and thus enables us to understand fully why the synthesis was necessary and why Darwin's original theory - that evolutionary change is due to the combination of variation and selection - is as solid at the end of the 20th century as it was in 1859.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780674272262
ISBN-10: 0674272269
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 155mm x 33mm)
Pages: 504
Imprint: Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publish Date: 27-Feb-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions

Reviews

US Kirkus Review » Somewhere between 1920 and 1950, William Provine notes in an epilogue, "a consensus concerning the mechanism of evolution appeared among biologists. . . Whatever it is called - evolution, the modern synthesis, the evolutionary synthesis, or twentieth century Darwinism. . . [it was] a comprehensive and compelling view of the mechanism of evolution." The present volume is no less than an attempt to record how that consensus came about, tapping the memories and interpretations of some of the prime movers as well as latter-day inheritors and historians in the field. The forces to be reconciled were those of the geneticists, other specialists working at the cellular level, and the macrobiologists - those concerned with species, natural selection, taxonomy, paleontology. By the late 1940s, geneticists had taken the lead and laid claim to accomplishing the evolutionary synthesis. Not so, proclaimed Ernst Mayr and C. H. Waddington. In 1974, two workshops were held to address the issue. Mayr was the chairman. Dobzhansky was there. So were Darlington, Provine, Lewontin, DeVore, and such new lights as Stephen Jay Gould, Frank Sulloway, and Robert Trivers. Their retrospective papers, plus contributions from a stellar list of invitees, constitute the text, along with some fascinating biographical appendices. Even a casual reading of the papers points up how disparate were views here and abroad during the first quarter of the century. Many a geneticist was a neo-Lamarckian. Embryologists typically dismissed the genetic material in cells as having no significance for development: after all, the genetic material was the same in all the cells of an animal, but the cells were different. In truth, reading the volume does not clearly explain how synthesis came about - nor even convey exactly what synthesis means. Rather, as Mayr indicates, it shows just how many and how complex were the strands to be woven into synthesis. While the material is all at the professional level, lay readers - and especially students - may find much of this first-hand testimony exciting. For historians and philosophers of science, it is paydirt to be tapped as they debate how pivotal theories form and evolve. What better example than the evolutionary synthesis itself? (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Ernst Mayr

Ernst Mayr is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, at Harvard University. He is also the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the Crafoord Prize for Biology, the National Medal of Science, the Balzan Prize, and the Japan Prize.

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