The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought

University of Chicago Press
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Prior to the First World War, more people learned of evolutionary theory from the voluminous writings of Charles Darwin’s foremost champion in Germany, Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919), than from any other source, including the writings of Darwin himself. But, with detractors ranging from paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould to modern-day creationists and advocates of intelligent design, Haeckel is better known as a divisive figure than as a pioneering biologist. Robert J. Richards’s intellectual biography rehabilitates Haeckel, providing the most accurate measure of his science and art yet written, as well as a moving account of Haeckel’s eventful life.
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About the author

Robert J. Richards is the Morris Fishbein Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago and the author, most recently, of The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe, also published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Nov 15, 2008
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Pages
512
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ISBN
9780226712192
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Science & Technology
Science / General
Science / History
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
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This content is DRM protected.
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From a small island in the Baltic Sea to the large tropical islands of Borneo and Madagascar, Messages from Islands is a global tour of these natural, water-bound laboratories. In this career-spanning work, Ilkka Hanski draws upon the many islands on which he performed fieldwork to convey key themes in ecology. By exploring the islands’ biodiversity as an introduction to general issues, Hanski helps us to learn how species and communities interact in fragmented landscapes, how evolution generates biodiversity, and how this biodiversity is maintained over time.

Beginning each chapter on a particular island, Hanski dives into reflections on his own field studies before going on to pursue a variety of ecological questions, including: What is the biodiversity crisis? What are extinction thresholds and extinction debts? What can the biodiversity hypothesis tell us about rapidly increasing allergies, asthma, and other chronic inflammatory disorders? The world’s largest island, Greenland, for instance, is the starting point for a journey into the benefits that humankind acquires from biodiversity, including the staggering biodiversity of microbes in the ecosystems that are closest to us—the ecosystems in our guts, in our respiratory tracts, and under our skin. Conceptually oriented but grounded in an adventurous personal narrative, Messages from Islands is a landmark work that lifts the natural mysteries of islands from the sea, bringing to light the thrilling complexities and connections of ecosystems worldwide.
"All art should become science and all science art; poetry and philosophy should be made one." Friedrich Schlegel's words perfectly capture the project of the German Romantics, who believed that the aesthetic approaches of art and literature could reveal patterns and meaning in nature that couldn't be uncovered through rationalistic philosophy and science alone. In this wide-ranging work, Robert J. Richards shows how the Romantic conception of the world influenced (and was influenced by) both the lives of the people who held it and the development of nineteenth-century science.

Integrating Romantic literature, science, and philosophy with an intimate knowledge of the individuals involved—from Goethe and the brothers Schlegel to Humboldt and Friedrich and Caroline Schelling—Richards demonstrates how their tempestuous lives shaped their ideas as profoundly as their intellectual and cultural heritage. He focuses especially on how Romantic concepts of the self, as well as aesthetic and moral considerations—all tempered by personal relationships—altered scientific representations of nature. Although historians have long considered Romanticism at best a minor tributary to scientific thought, Richards moves it to the center of the main currents of nineteenth-century biology, culminating in the conception of nature that underlies Darwin's evolutionary theory.

Uniting the personal and poetic aspects of philosophy and science in a way that the German Romantics themselves would have honored, The Romantic Conception of Life alters how we look at Romanticism and nineteenth-century biology.
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