SCIENCES

The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks' Teeth to Frogs' Pants, the Long and Strange Quest To Discover Where Babies Come From

Basic. Jun. 2017. 320p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465082957. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780465094967. SCI
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While it was common knowledge in the 17th century that babies resulted from men and women having sex, it took some time before people became aware of the nuances of conception and reproduction. Focusing on the years 1650–1875, Dolnick (The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World), former chief science writer for the Boston Globe, narrates a story with many wrong turns and near misses, skillfully tantalizing modern readers with hints of a greater truth obscured by lack of information. He also does an excellent job of explaining the critical role that religion played for early modern biologists. Today, we sometimes think of faith and science as being in opposition to each other, but that was not the case during this period; rather, religion inspired and directed the work of these early scientists. The narrative ends somewhat abruptly in 1875, when egg fertilization was witnessed for the first time.
VERDICT An enlightening and quick read that delves into the details of a topic that readers might think they know all about. Those interested in the early modern period and the history of science in Europe will particularly appreciate this title.

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