A History of Geneticsby A. H. Sturtevant

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  • A History of Genetics by A. H. SturtevantReview by: Conway ZirkleIsis, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Summer, 1966), pp. 278-279Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science SocietyStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/227974 .Accessed: 09/05/2014 00:59

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  • BOOK REVIEWS - ISIS, 57 2 -188 (1966) BOOK REVIEWS - ISIS, 57 2 -188 (1966)

    traveled extensively from Lombardia to Sicily, climbed Vesuvius and Etna, but unfortunately never published his promised account which was to be en- titled Le tour d'un naturaliste en Italie.

    The study of the contribution of foreign naturalists, which includes the names of many more celebrities, is a logical introduction to the second part of Rodolico's volume, in which the itineraries of all these explorers are followed in great detail. Very clear maps and a wealth of footnotes make this description, which otherwise could have been quite arid, a pleasantly in- tegrated picture written in a beautiful prose.

    The full-page photographs at the end of the volume represent another un- usual asset of the book. They show either landscapes or details of outcrops accompanied by the comments they in- spired from the famous travelers them- selves. Being able to read what Spallan- zani, for instance, had to say in front of the effects of marine erosion in the cliffs of Portovenere or de Saussure facing the Alcantara gorge in Etna, is one of the most fascinating experiences that this book provides, thus putting the reader deep into the natural and historical context.

    The last part of the book reviews the results of this international explora- tion. The chief advances were in stra- tigraphy and paleontology, since the structure of the Apennines remained an enigma until recently. Other important discoveries were made in the fields of volcanology, geomorphology, and bo- tanical geography.

    Rodolico's book raises the question of why historians of science and geol- ogists alike had to wait until 1963 for a scholarly presentation of a subject which is certainly as important a mile- stone in the development of geological ideas as the well-known and exhaus- tively treated geological exploration of the Alps. The answer is typically Italian: for centuries the Apennines did not have a single man completely dedicated to a lifetime work such as the one that de Saussure did for the Alps. Although the intoxicating and irresis- tible atmosphere of Italy attracted

    traveled extensively from Lombardia to Sicily, climbed Vesuvius and Etna, but unfortunately never published his promised account which was to be en- titled Le tour d'un naturaliste en Italie.

    The study of the contribution of foreign naturalists, which includes the names of many more celebrities, is a logical introduction to the second part of Rodolico's volume, in which the itineraries of all these explorers are followed in great detail. Very clear maps and a wealth of footnotes make this description, which otherwise could have been quite arid, a pleasantly in- tegrated picture written in a beautiful prose.

    The full-page photographs at the end of the volume represent another un- usual asset of the book. They show either landscapes or details of outcrops accompanied by the comments they in- spired from the famous travelers them- selves. Being able to read what Spallan- zani, for instance, had to say in front of the effects of marine erosion in the cliffs of Portovenere or de Saussure facing the Alcantara gorge in Etna, is one of the most fascinating experiences that this book provides, thus putting the reader deep into the natural and historical context.

    The last part of the book reviews the results of this international explora- tion. The chief advances were in stra- tigraphy and paleontology, since the structure of the Apennines remained an enigma until recently. Other important discoveries were made in the fields of volcanology, geomorphology, and bo- tanical geography.

    Rodolico's book raises the question of why historians of science and geol- ogists alike had to wait until 1963 for a scholarly presentation of a subject which is certainly as important a mile- stone in the development of geological ideas as the well-known and exhaus- tively treated geological exploration of the Alps. The answer is typically Italian: for centuries the Apennines did not have a single man completely dedicated to a lifetime work such as the one that de Saussure did for the Alps. Although the intoxicating and irresis- tible atmosphere of Italy attracted

    scores of naturalists, their travels across the Apennines were but a fleeting epi- sode in their peregrinations. None re- mained in the country long enough to write a synthetical account. Those who did remain fell under the fatal charm of the country so well described re- cently by Luigi Barzini in The Italians (New York: Atheneum, 1964).

    ALBERT V. CAROZZI

    University of Illinois

    scores of naturalists, their travels across the Apennines were but a fleeting epi- sode in their peregrinations. None re- mained in the country long enough to write a synthetical account. Those who did remain fell under the fatal charm of the country so well described re- cently by Luigi Barzini in The Italians (New York: Atheneum, 1964).

    ALBERT V. CAROZZI

    University of Illinois

    I BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES I BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES A. H. Sturtevant. A History of Genetics. (Modern Perspectives in Biology.) 165 pp., apps., bibl., index. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. $5.50.

    A book with this title, written by a distinguished geneticist, would almost automatically be considered a valuable secondary source, one that would be used by all future historians of biology. Sturtevant's book is all this and also a great deal more. In writing this history of genetics the author had a number of advantages, for he had participated personally in many of the discoveries on which modern genetics is based. He was one of the original members of that small group who worked in the "fly room" at Columbia University - the group that contributed as much, perhaps, to the early development of genetics as did all of their contem- poraries. What emerged from the "fly room" was a major factor in ushering in what is now called the Classical Period of genetics. The original mem- bers of this group were T. H. Morgan, A. H. Sturtevant, C. B. Bridges, and H. J. Muller - a group that developed into the most famous of all research teams. They were rewarded with two Nobel prizes.

    A History of Genetics is also a unique primary source, as it was written by an eyewitness - by an insider - who saw the early and basic discoveries in ge- netics as they were being made. The eyewitness also contributed his full share to the developing science, especi-

    A. H. Sturtevant. A History of Genetics. (Modern Perspectives in Biology.) 165 pp., apps., bibl., index. New York: Harper & Row, 1965. $5.50.

    A book with this title, written by a distinguished geneticist, would almost automatically be considered a valuable secondary source, one that would be used by all future historians of biology. Sturtevant's book is all this and also a great deal more. In writing this history of genetics the author had a number of advantages, for he had participated personally in many of the discoveries on which modern genetics is based. He was one of the original members of that small group who worked in the "fly room" at Columbia University - the group that contributed as much, perhaps, to the early development of genetics as did all of their contem- poraries. What emerged from the "fly room" was a major factor in ushering in what is now called the Classical Period of genetics. The original mem- bers of this group were T. H. Morgan, A. H. Sturtevant, C. B. Bridges, and H. J. Muller - a group that developed into the most famous of all research teams. They were rewarded with two Nobel prizes.

    A History of Genetics is also a unique primary source, as it was written by an eyewitness - by an insider - who saw the early and basic discoveries in ge- netics as they were being made. The eyewitness also contributed his full share to the developing science, especi-

    278 278

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  • BOOK REVIEWS- ISIS, 57 2-188 (1966)

    ally to the creation of genetic theory. It is not often that a history of a science is written by one who helped to create it, but when such a history is written, no serious historian of science can afford not to read it.

    This history gives us a very clear account of the discovery of the raw data of genetics just as the data were found and ultimately as they were un- derstood. And it is here, in this de- tailed account, that we can see how one science came into being. Time after time, the geneticists interpreted their discoveries logically and in the light of their background information only to discover later that their first interpre- tation was inadequate. Obviously, a verifiable theory is not easy to come by, but only rarely are we shown by an expert just how the process operates. Ultimately, of course, the existing theoretical basis of genetics emerged - the theoretical basis that has thus far been able to accommodate and to give meaning to all of the subsequent dis- coveries.

    In writing this history, Sturtevant has given us an unexpected bonus. A gen- eration ago he participated in a type of research that is only now becoming popular, and he describes very pre- cisely just how the research was done, just how one research team operated. More and more, scientific research is becoming group research. Some prob- lems seemingly can be solved better by a group attack, and Sturtevant describes such an attack as seen from the inside. Each scientist who worked in the " fly room" made his individual contribu- tion; but also there was an exchange of notions and of hunches. Seemingly there were no secrets withheld nor ap- parently was there any especial interest in priority. We have here a picture of group research at its best.

    A History of Genetics naturally re- flects the author's experiences and in- terests. It is written primarily for geneticists, although all professional biologists should be able to read it with profit. As the author states, it assumes

    some knowledge of genetics; in fact, a historian who has not had at least an undergraduate course in genetics or its equivalent would be almost certain to miss many of the finer points. Natur- ally, this is not a book to be assigned to just any graduate student in the history of science.

    It should be mentioned also that the author has been a bit austere in the limits he has set to his coverage. Sev- eral times he shows clearly and inter- estingly how some branch of genetics began, only to cut his account short by stating, for example, that this "de- velopment is outside the scope of this book." His austerity has certainly pre- served the classical unity of his -treat- ment, but the reviewer does not feel greedy in wanting more. The very pre- cise limits that Sturtevant has set, how- ever, should make it easier for his suc- cessors to extend his coverage. He set no exact terminal point to his work, but states that the developments in genetics after 1950 are indicated rather than described. It should be noted also that he traces the pre-Mendelian concepts of heredity only in a rather sketchy out- line, but this is not a serious defect.

    The overall history of genetics falls easily and naturally into three periods. Recently, the first or pre-Mendelian period has been covered excellently by Hans Stubbe in his Kurze Geschichte der Genetik bis zur Wiederentdeckung der Vererbungsregeln Gregor Mendels (Jena: G. Fischer Verlag, 1963), al- ready in its second edition. Sturtevant's A History of Genetics does the same for the middle or Classical Period. The third, now generally called the period of molecular genetics, has been in exist- ence for only a little over a decade, and is hardly ready for its history to be written. It is still in its textbook phase. We can express the hope, however, that whoever writes the history of molecular genetics will achieve the standards set by Stubbe and Sturtevant, but it will not be easy.

    CONWAY ZIRKLE

    University of Pennsylvania

    279

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    Article Contentsp.278p.279

    Issue Table of ContentsIsis, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Summer, 1966), pp. 153-294Front Matter [pp.153-155]Alexandre Koyre (1892-1964): Commemoration [pp.157-166]Early Explanations of the Role of the Earth's Rotation in the Circulation of the Atmosphere and the Ocean [pp.167-187]William Crookes and the Radiometer [pp.188-198]The "FitzGerald" Contraction [pp.199-207]The Planetary Theory of Ibn al-Shatir: Latitudes of the Planets [pp.208-219]Descartes' Laws of Motion [pp.220-234]Roger Bacon's Theory of the Rainbow: Progress or Regress? [pp.235-248]Old and New Physiology in Sir Thomas Browne: Digestion and Some Other Functions [pp.249-259]Eloges: Three French Historians of Science [pp.260-261]Notes & CorrespondenceGalileo and Kepler: Their First Two Contacts [pp.262-264]G. M. Bose: The Prime Mover in the Invention of the Leyden Jar? [pp.264-267]Becquerel's "Unexposed" Photographic Plates [pp.267-269]Free Fall in Galileo's Dialogue [pp.269-271]

    News [pp.272-273]Book ReviewsGilbert in Mundane Garb [pp.274-275]

    History of Scienceuntitled [pp.275-276]untitled [pp.276-277]

    Earth Sciencesuntitled [pp.277-278]

    Biological Sciencesuntitled [pp.278-279]

    Classical Antiquityuntitled [pp.280-281]untitled [p.281]untitled [pp.281-282]

    Seventeenth & Eighteenth Centuriesuntitled [pp.282-284]

    Nineteenth & Twentieth Centuriesuntitled [pp.284-285]untitled [pp.285-286]untitled [pp.286-287]untitled [pp.287...