This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World / Edition 1

Paperback (Print)
Rent
Rent from BN.com
$8.37
(Save 69%)
Est. Return Date: 10/31/2014
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
$21.56
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $1.99
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 92%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (30) from $1.99   
  • New (8) from $15.85   
  • Used (22) from $1.99   

Overview

Biology until recently has been the neglected stepchild of science, and many educated people have little grasp of how biology explains the natural world. Yet to address the major political and moral questions that face us today, we must acquire an understanding of their biological roots. This magisterial new book by Ernst Mayr will go far to remedy this situation. An eyewitness to this century's relentless biological advance and the creator of some of its most important concepts, Mayr is uniquely qualified to offer a vision of science that places biology firmly at the center, and a vision of biology that restores the primacy of holistic, evolutionary thinking.

As he argues persuasively, the physical sciences cannot address many aspects of nature that are unique to life. Living organisms must be understood at every level of organization; they cannot be reduced to the laws of physics and chemistry. Mayr's approach is refreshingly at odds with the reductionist thinking that dominated scientific research earlier in this century, and will help to redirect how people think about the natural world.

This Is Biology can also be read as a "life history" of the discipline--from its roots in the work of Aristotle, through its dormancy during the Scientific Revolution and its flowering in the hands of Darwin, to its spectacular growth with the advent of molecular techniques. Mayr maps out the territorial overlap between biology and the humanities, especially history and ethics, and carefully describes important distinctions between science and other systems of thought, including theology. Both as an overview of the sciences of life and as the culmination of a remarkable life in science, This Is Biology will richly reward professionals and general readers alike.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

New York Times Book Review

[A] lovely book...[It] is a long essay on how biologists study living things on the large scale of organisms and their families. Its range is enormous...This is an old-fashioned book, to be read slowly, more than once, and to be thought about afterward. Isn't that what books are for—so that people can, at their leisure, consider the hard-learned thoughts of a beautifully educated, smart old man?
— Ann Finkbeiner

The Ibis

As would be expected from Mayr, the text achieves considerable richness and depth. Academic readers will appreciate a sophisticated level of cross-disciplinary analysis, and all readers will enjoy a lucid style of presentation...This is Biology is yet another illustration of one of Mayr's most celebrated talents: his power to transform a vast amount of complex knowledge into its engaging and illuminating essence. As a product, the science of biology is left in clear perspective and is liberated from many stereotypical attributes that are traditionally associated with science as a whole. Practising professionals and students alike should benefit immeasurably from reading this book.
— Barnaby Marsh

Stephen Jay Gould
Ernst Mayr, the world's greatest living evolutionary biologist and a writer of extraordinary insight and clarity, gives us, in the tenth decade of his own rich life, his distillation of a full career spent in thought and study of his favorite subject.
Science Books and Films

This Is Biology is an excellent attempt on Mayr's part to bring biology to a common focus and to help define what characteristics distinguish living systems from inanimate matter. This is an extremely well-thought-out and eminently scholarly work. It will be of significant value to those who wish to understand the philosophical underpinnings of biology, how biological questions are addressed, how the various subdisciplines came into existence, and how they are related. It is also a very personal work due, in no small part, to Mayr's own seminal contributions over the years to several biological topics.
— Mitchell K. Hobish

Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease

We are fortunate that one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century has taken the time to set down his reflections on biology as he has seen it develop for the last three-quarters of a century. Mayr is not afraid to tackle the difficult issues of a definition of life, a description of the modern theory of evolution, punctuated equilibrium, ontologic recapitulation, sociobiology, cladistics, and the descent of man, to name a few...This is an erudite, carefully reasoned account of what a naturalist considers to constitute biology penned by one of the great evolutionary biologists of the century. It is well worth a read.
— J. Edward Rall, M.D.

New Scientist

He is acknowledged to be one of the great zoologists of the 20th century. His contributions to evolutionary biology have been recognised by a dazzling collection of the world's most prestigious scientific awards...Now 92, Ernst Mayr has written a wide-ranging review of biological thought and progress. In part, This Is Biology is a study of the philosophy of biology, and in part a history of selected branches of the subject...This is a magisterial account of biology, by a great biologist.
— R. McNeill Alexander

Times Higher Education Supplement

[Mayr's] summary of the early history of evolution is excellent, particularly of Darwin's monumental contribution. His analysis of the concept of speciation, a key feature of evolution, is excellent and he has contributed much to this area...The most interesting chapter raises questions about the relationship between ethics and evolution.
— Lewis Wolpert

Nature

In this wide-ranging book, Ernst Mayr, one of the doyens of evolutionary biology, raises many important questions about the nature of biological research. He examines them in a scholarly yet approachable way...This is a book designed to make one think...Mayr raises the fascinating question of how we humans have been able to change our society so remarkably in the past thousands of years—occupying many niches of climate and geography—without much change in our gene pool. It is just one of the many unanswered questions that course through his fertile brain and have found an outlet in this volume.
— David Baltimore

Boston Globe

In this deeply thought-provoking book, [Mayr] records his thoughts about the philosophical underpinnings of his beloved field of biology and muses about some of the changes he sees coming as his colleagues delve more deeply into both the molecular basis of life and the complex web of interacting agents that make up the global ecosystem...[I]n the last few chapters, Mayr moves to a more speculative mode and addresses himself to questions such as the place that humanity has in the grand evolutionary scheme, and the question of whether there is a sense in which human ethical systems can be accounted for by evolution...I wouldn't dream of spoiling your fun by trying to summarize Mayr's complex and well-thought-out views on these [questions]...The book covers so many topics that there is something here for everyone.
— James Trefil

New York Times

This Is Biology...explicates the field as only this historian, philosopher and biologist could.
— Carol Kaesuk Yoon

New York Times Book Review - Ann Finkbeiner
[A] lovely book...[It] is a long essay on how biologists study living things on the large scale of organisms and their families. Its range is enormous...This is an old-fashioned book, to be read slowly, more than once, and to be thought about afterward. Isn't that what books are for--so that people can, at their leisure, consider the hard-learned thoughts of a beautifully educated, smart old man?
The Ibis - Barnaby Marsh
As would be expected from Mayr, the text achieves considerable richness and depth. Academic readers will appreciate a sophisticated level of cross-disciplinary analysis, and all readers will enjoy a lucid style of presentation...This is Biology is yet another illustration of one of Mayr's most celebrated talents: his power to transform a vast amount of complex knowledge into its engaging and illuminating essence. As a product, the science of biology is left in clear perspective and is liberated from many stereotypical attributes that are traditionally associated with science as a whole. Practising professionals and students alike should benefit immeasurably from reading this book.
Robert K. Merton
Another many-faceted gem from the Sage of twentieth century biology. A readable life history and philosophy of biology, this original composite of science and scholarship illuminates every aspect of its great subject. Not least, it simply demolishes the millennial myth of 'the end of science.'
Jerome Kagan
Ernst Mayr has done it again. In a graceful style that replaces the arcane with the clear, he presents the structure of the diverse biological disciplines in a historical and philosophical frame that does not evade the issue of hominid evolution and its unique moral characteristics. Loyal fans of this eminent scholar will find themselves smiling at the beauty and wisdom in this synthesis of fact and ideas.
Edward O. Wilson
In this brief and very readable book, one of the grand masters of twentieth-century biology sums up the personal wisdom accumulated during seventy years of research and reflection.
Science Books and Films - Mitchell K. Hobish
This Is Biology is an excellent attempt on Mayr's part to bring biology to a common focus and to help define what characteristics distinguish living systems from inanimate matter. This is an extremely well-thought-out and eminently scholarly work. It will be of significant value to those who wish to understand the philosophical underpinnings of biology, how biological questions are addressed, how the various subdisciplines came into existence, and how they are related. It is also a very personal work due, in no small part, to Mayr's own seminal contributions over the years to several biological topics.
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease - J. Edward Rall
We are fortunate that one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century has taken the time to set down his reflections on biology as he has seen it develop for the last three-quarters of a century. Mayr is not afraid to tackle the difficult issues of a definition of life, a description of the modern theory of evolution, punctuated equilibrium, ontologic recapitulation, sociobiology, cladistics, and the descent of man, to name a few...This is an erudite, carefully reasoned account of what a naturalist considers to constitute biology penned by one of the great evolutionary biologists of the century. It is well worth a read.
New Scientist - R. McNeill Alexander
He is acknowledged to be one of the great zoologists of the 20th century. His contributions to evolutionary biology have been recognised by a dazzling collection of the world's most prestigious scientific awards...Now 92, Ernst Mayr has written a wide-ranging review of biological thought and progress. In part, This Is Biology is a study of the philosophy of biology, and in part a history of selected branches of the subject...This is a magisterial account of biology, by a great biologist.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Lewis Wolpert
[Mayr's] summary of the early history of evolution is excellent, particularly of Darwin's monumental contribution. His analysis of the concept of speciation, a key feature of evolution, is excellent and he has contributed much to this area...The most interesting chapter raises questions about the relationship between ethics and evolution.
Nature - David Baltimore
In this wide-ranging book, Ernst Mayr, one of the doyens of evolutionary biology, raises many important questions about the nature of biological research. He examines them in a scholarly yet approachable way...This is a book designed to make one think...Mayr raises the fascinating question of how we humans have been able to change our society so remarkably in the past thousands of years--occupying many niches of climate and geography--without much change in our gene pool. It is just one of the many unanswered questions that course through his fertile brain and have found an outlet in this volume.
Boston Globe - James Trefil
In this deeply thought-provoking book, [Mayr] records his thoughts about the philosophical underpinnings of his beloved field of biology and muses about some of the changes he sees coming as his colleagues delve more deeply into both the molecular basis of life and the complex web of interacting agents that make up the global ecosystem...[I]n the last few chapters, Mayr moves to a more speculative mode and addresses himself to questions such as the place that humanity has in the grand evolutionary scheme, and the question of whether there is a sense in which human ethical systems can be accounted for by evolution...I wouldn't dream of spoiling your fun by trying to summarize Mayr's complex and well-thought-out views on these [questions]...The book covers so many topics that there is something here for everyone.
New York Times - Carol Kaesuk Yoon
This Is Biology...explicates the field as only this historian, philosopher and biologist could.
Stephen Jay Gould
Ernst Mayr, the world's greatest living evolutionary biologist and a writer of extraordinary insight and clarity, gives us, in the tenth decade of his own rich life, his distillation of a full career spent in thought and study of his favorite subject.
Science Books and Films
This Is Biology is an excellent attempt on Mayr's part to bring biology to a common focus and to help define what characteristics distinguish living systems from inanimate matter. This is an extremely well-thought-out and eminently scholarly work. It will be of significant value to those who wish to understand the philosophical underpinnings of biology, how biological questions are addressed, how the various subdisciplines came into existence, and how they are related. It is also a very personal work due, in no small part, to Mayr's own seminal contributions over the years to several biological topics.
— Mitchell K. Hobish
Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease
We are fortunate that one of the great evolutionary biologists of the 20th century has taken the time to set down his reflections on biology as he has seen it develop for the last three-quarters of a century. Mayr is not afraid to tackle the difficult issues of a definition of life, a description of the modern theory of evolution, punctuated equilibrium, ontologic recapitulation, sociobiology, cladistics, and the descent of man, to name a few...This is an erudite, carefully reasoned account of what a naturalist considers to constitute biology penned by one of the great evolutionary biologists of the century. It is well worth a read.
— J. Edward Rall, M.D.
New Scientist
He is acknowledged to be one of the great zoologists of the 20th century. His contributions to evolutionary biology have been recognised by a dazzling collection of the world's most prestigious scientific awards...Now 92, Ernst Mayr has written a wide-ranging review of biological thought and progress. In part, This Is Biology is a study of the philosophy of biology, and in part a history of selected branches of the subject...This is a magisterial account of biology, by a great biologist.
— R. McNeill Alexander
Times Higher Education Supplement
[Mayr's] summary of the early history of evolution is excellent, particularly of Darwin's monumental contribution. His analysis of the concept of speciation, a key feature of evolution, is excellent and he has contributed much to this area...The most interesting chapter raises questions about the relationship between ethics and evolution.
— Lewis Wolpert
Nature
In this wide-ranging book, Ernst Mayr, one of the doyens of evolutionary biology, raises many important questions about the nature of biological research. He examines them in a scholarly yet approachable way...This is a book designed to make one think...Mayr raises the fascinating question of how we humans have been able to change our society so remarkably in the past thousands of years--occupying many niches of climate and geography--without much change in our gene pool. It is just one of the many unanswered questions that course through his fertile brain and have found an outlet in this volume.
— David Baltimore
Boston Globe
In this deeply thought-provoking book, [Mayr] records his thoughts about the philosophical underpinnings of his beloved field of biology and muses about some of the changes he sees coming as his colleagues delve more deeply into both the molecular basis of life and the complex web of interacting agents that make up the global ecosystem...[I]n the last few chapters, Mayr moves to a more speculative mode and addresses himself to questions such as the place that humanity has in the grand evolutionary scheme, and the question of whether there is a sense in which human ethical systems can be accounted for by evolution...I wouldn't dream of spoiling your fun by trying to summarize Mayr's complex and well-thought-out views on these [questions]...The book covers so many topics that there is something here for everyone.
— James Trefil
New York Times
This Is Biology...explicates the field as only this historian, philosopher and biologist could.
— Carol Kaesuk Yoon
New York Times Book Review
[A] lovely book...[It] is a long essay on how biologists study living things on the large scale of organisms and their families. Its range is enormous...This is an old-fashioned book, to be read slowly, more than once, and to be thought about afterward. Isn't that what books are for--so that people can, at their leisure, consider the hard-learned thoughts of a beautifully educated, smart old man?
— Ann Finkbeiner
The Ibis
As would be expected from Mayr, the text achieves considerable richness and depth. Academic readers will appreciate a sophisticated level of cross-disciplinary analysis, and all readers will enjoy a lucid style of presentation...This is Biology is yet another illustration of one of Mayr's most celebrated talents: his power to transform a vast amount of complex knowledge into its engaging and illuminating essence. As a product, the science of biology is left in clear perspective and is liberated from many stereotypical attributes that are traditionally associated with science as a whole. Practising professionals and students alike should benefit immeasurably from reading this book.
— Barnaby Marsh
Ann Finkbeiner
[A] lovely book. . . [It] is a long essay on how biologists study living things on the large scale of organisms and their families. Its range is enormous. . . This is an old-fashioned book, to be read slowly, more than once, and to be thought about afterward. Isn't that the what books are for? -- New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The simplicity of its title belies the complexity of this book, which requires attentive reading even by professional biologists. Nonetheless, Mayr, emeritus professor of zoology at Harvard and a major contributor to contemporary evolutionary understanding, manages to condense the involved history of biological thought into this treatise. In this respect, the book should interest the general educated reader. In the more polemical passages, Mayr tries to explicate the perspective of a practicing biologist to philosophers of science. Mayr promotes a view of knowledge acquisition called evolutionary epistemology, which suggests that human understanding evolves like life itself, i.e. that while chance reigns supreme in the origination of ideas, those that survive are the ones that best serve their adherents over time. In the thought-provoking final chapters, Mayr enlarges upon an earlier statement: "Our [success in] dealing with racial discrimination, crime, drug addiction, homelessness... will depend... on our understanding of their biological roots." He promotes an ethic of "evolutionary humanism" and suggests that children be inculcated with the attitude that "one should never do anything to one's environment... which would make life more difficult for future generations." Extensive notes, bibliography, glossary, topic guide and index all contribute to the academic usefulness of the book. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Mayr (zoology, Harvard; One Long Argument, LJ 10/1/91) offers a critical overview of the major concepts and issues surrounding biology from Aristotle to the present in terms of emergence and organicism. He stresses both the uniqueness and the importance of the life sciences, distinguishing between ultimate and proximate causations in organic history. Rejecting vitalism, teleology, essentialism, and supernaturalism, he focuses on "population thinking" as well as variation and selection within a neo-Darwinian worldview. Special attention is given to the philosophy of science, especially the ideas of progress and limits. Other topics include genetics, cytology, evolution, development, and biodiversity. The excellent chapters on ethics, ecology, and human evolution emphasize the value of scientific evolutionism. Unfortunately, Mayr does not discuss exobiology, molecular biology, or genetic engineering, and more illustrations (there is only one) would have been helpful. Recommended for academic and large public biology collections.-H. James Birx, Canisius Coll. Lib., Buffalo, N.Y.
Library Journal
The author, trained in evolution and ecology, provides an overview of the scientific study of the living world and how biologists do research in an ever-expanding sea of information. His book combines the history of biology with a philosophical perspective, looking at not just the "when" of biology but also the "why." (LJ 3/1/97) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Here is the doyen of systematics/taxonomy—a biologist who has witnessed the major revolutions in the field in the 20th century. So a volume of memoirs would be most welcome. Alas, no, what we have are didactic lectures on biology and the need to settle a few intellectual scores.

To begin with, Mayr takes up arms against philosophy—narrowly construed as philosophy of science. The reason? Ever since Newton, the philosophes have taken physics as the model science, regarding biology as a second-rate pursuit based merely on observations. Thomas Kuhn gets his comeuppance when Mayr denies that biology follows the model of long periods of "normal" science punctuated by findings that radically change the paradigm. Given the enormous success of molecular biology and the absence of philosophical debate in the prestigious science journals (except in areas of ethics), these chapters seem largely gratuitous. For the rest, Mayr says he has written the book to provide a perspective on the whole field of biology for fellow biologists suffering the myopia that is endemic as the science splits into finer and finer specialties. He does this by addressing the how, what, and why questions biologists ask, answering them in terms of chronologies of four areas of biology he knows well: biodiversity, developmental biology, evolution, and ecology. There is some excellent material here, although at times larded with jargon (the conscientious will find the glossary helpful). But again, Mayr draws back from just those areas—molecular and cell biology—that have so transformed the field. To his credit, he maintains an open mind on today's celebrated controversies, wisely noting that dichotomous views (e.g., nature vs. nurture) are often resolved by finding not in favor of one or the other alone, but rather that both together are important.

Faced with this didactic piece, let us hope that there is still more to come from Mayr—an autobiography or at least a glimpse of the life and times of one of biology's greats.

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674884694
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/15/1998
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 527,431
  • Product dimensions: 0.72 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Ernst Mayr was Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology, Emeritus, at Harvard University. He was 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.
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Guide to Topics Covered

Preface

What Is the Meaning of Life?

What Is Science?

How Does Science Explain the Natural World?

How Does Biology Explain the Living World?

Does Science Advance?

How Are the Life Sciences Structured?

"What?" Questions: The Study of Biodiversity

"How?" Questions: The Making of a New Individual

"Why?" Questions: The Evolution of Organisms

What Questions Does Ecology Ask?

Where Do Humans Fit into Evolution?

Can Evolution Account for Ethics?

Notes

Bibliography

Glossary

Guide to Topics Covered

Acknowledgments

Index

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)