Thursday, January 31, 2008

Pg. 99: Jim Endersby's "A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology by Jim Endersby.

About the book, from the publisher:
Among the praise for the book:
"Try to skim this book and you'll find yourself drawn into reading every word. Eye-opening and entertaining, this is cutting-edge history of science that everyone should read. Discover why Charles Darwin puzzled over passion flowers, and how the most unlikely of experimental organisms -- from guinea pigs to an unprepossessing cress plant -- contributed to what are now hailed as landmark discoveries, as well as leading to a lot of dead ends. Throughout his gripping narrative, Jim Endersby shows how today's right answer is almost always tomorrow's wrong one."
--Gail Vines, New Scientist

"Jim Endersby's book is packed with strange lore about the creatures that live in laboratories, but it is no mere miscellany. He has hit upon the bright idea of telling the story of reproduction, inheritance and evolution--and how we learnt about them, by focusing on the handful of creatures that have provided most of our knowledge: the fruitfly, the zebrafish, the bacteriophage, Darwin's passion flowers, maize, the evening primrose, the cress plant Arabidopsis and a few others. Oh, and not forgetting Homo sapiens. Endersby's technique is a wonderfully roundabout way of telling some of the great stories of modern biology."
--Peter Forbes, Daily Mail

"Over the past two decades, dozens of popular books discussing the Darwinian perspective on the history of biology have appeared, many of them derivative and stale. Some of us are feeling rather Darwinned out. But Jim Endersby has come up with a fresh and rewarding approach. He illuminates the story of our understanding of life since 1800 (when the word biology was coined) by focusing on 12 organisms that have been most useful to natural scientists in illuminating one of life's central mysteries, inheritance. The result is a hefty, easily readable account of the remarkable progress biologists have made over the past two centuries to enrich our understanding of life...Much of the charm of Endersby's account derives from his meandering style and his eye for the telling incident...Endersby's account of how zebra fish became one of nature's most revealing organisms is a gem of popular science writing, both an entertainment and an education. It demonstrates that a talented historian can illuminate science that has come to appear jaded after too many retellings by authors with a meagre grasp of their subject's past."
--Graham Farmelo, Sunday Telegraph

"The incredible intellectual journey from Charles Darwin's first experiments with orchids and passionflowers--starting in 1854 as he sought to unriddle the elements of heredity--to the patenting of the world first transgenic animal, OncoMouse, in 1988, is an intense and exciting voyage of discovery whose fascinating zigzags, cul-de-sacs, and milestones have seldom been charted in a more entertaining fashion than in Jim Endersby's A Guinea Pig's History of Biology."
--Paul DiFilippo, Barnes and Noble Review

"A Guinea Pig's History of Biology is a fascinatingly different take on the history of evolution, showing how science developed as a complex and fruitful interaction between individuals and the scientific world. As entertaining as it is enlightening."
--Judith Flanders, author of Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain

"In this astute, charming and witty book, Jim Endersby follows the careers of passionflowers and fruit flies, mice and fish and helps overthrow a host of myths that have beset the history of biology. He brings uncommon enthusiasm and infectious passion to his accounts of gardeners and travellers, farmers and priests. He shares his joy at gazing through microscopes at zebrafish, offers indispensable information about the roots of genetic modification and vivisection and concludes with a superbly judged exploration of the significance of campaigns around biotechnology and eugenics. This book will become a vital resource for anyone who cares about where our biological knowledge came from and why it matters so much to our future."
--Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge
Read an excerpt from A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Jim Endersby is a lecturer in the History Department at the University of Sussex. A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology is his first book. His monograph – Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian science – will be published by the University of Chicago Press in March 2008.

Learn more about the author and his research and other publications at Jim Endersby's faculty webpage and his personal homepage.

The Page 99 Test: A Guinea Pig’s History of Biology.

--Marshal Zeringue