The Ovary of Eve: Egg and Sperm and Performationby Clara Pinto-Correia, Stephen Jay Gould (Foreword by)
The Ovary of Eve is a rich and often hilarious account of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century efforts to understand conception. In these early years of the Scientific Revolution, the most intelligent men and women of the day struggled to come to terms with the origins of new life, and one theory—preformation—sparked an intensely heated debate/i>
The Ovary of Eve is a rich and often hilarious account of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century efforts to understand conception. In these early years of the Scientific Revolution, the most intelligent men and women of the day struggled to come to terms with the origins of new life, and one theory—preformation—sparked an intensely heated debate that continued for over a hundred years. Clara Pinto-Correia traces the history of this much maligned theory through the cultural capitals of Europe.
"The most wonderfully eye-opening, or imagination-opening book, as amusing as it is instructive."—Mary Warnock, London Observer
"[A] fascinating and often humorous study of a reproductive theory that flourished from the mid-17th century to the mid-18th century."—Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education
"More than just a good story, The Ovary of Eve is an object lesson about the history of science: Don't trust it. . . . Pinto-Correia says she wants to tell the story of history's losers. In doing so, she makes defeat sound more appealing than victory."—Emily Eakin, Nation.
"A sparkling history of preformation as it once affected every facet of European culture."—Robert Taylor, Boston Globe
From the mid-17th to the mid-18th centuries, battle lines were drawn between preformationists, who believed that all mankind was conceived in the ovary of Eve, and epigeneticists, who believed that development began de novo in each egg. Within the first camp there was further division between ovists, who believed future generations were encased within the egg like a series of ever-shrinking Russian dolls, and spermists, who saw a similar series of minipersons in the sperm head. Pinto-Correia's point is that the preformationists have gotten short shrift in the historical record, their ideas ridiculed and caricatured. But, she says, you can read today's homage to the genome as preformation reconfigured in the form of the idea that it's all written in the genes. Many will question that conclusion, however: Today's epigeneticists point to complex gene-environment interactions in development. In all fairness, the volume covers much more than an arcane chapter in the history of embryology. There are fascinating details on the evolution of thought in Harvey, Leeuwenhoek, Spallanzani (who preceded Pasteur in showing that spontaneous generation didn't exist), and numerous others. Many were skilled microscopists and experimental scientists who nevertheless reconciled what their eyes saw with what their soul believed. Pinto-Correia also elaborates on the denigration of women that colored many arguments, the importance of measurement and numerology (you could figure out how many Russian dolls you'd need, given that the universe was only 6,000 years old), and so on. (Stephen Jay Gould contributes a foreword.)
In short, there is a rich meal to dine onnot to be swallowed at one sittingbut perhaps to inspire other scholar/chefs to stew about.
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