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Species: A History of the Idea (Species and Systematics) [Paperback]

John Wilkins
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

4 Oct 2011 Species and Systematics (Book 1)
The complex idea of 'species' has evolved over time, yet its meaning is far from resolved. This comprehensive work takes a fresh look at an idea central to the field of biology by tracing its history from antiquity to today. John S. Wilkins explores the essentialist view, a staple of logic from Plato and Aristotle through the Middle Ages to fairly recent times, and considers the idea of species in natural history - a concept often connected to reproduction. Tracing 'generative conceptions' of species back through Darwin to Epicurus, Wilkins provides a new perspective on the relationship between philosophical and biological approaches to this concept. He also reviews the array of current definitions. "Species" is a benchmark exploration and clarification of a concept fundamental to the past, present, and future of the natural sciences.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (4 Oct 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520271394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520271395
  • Product Dimensions: 22.1 x 14.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 451,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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"The most comprehensive, encyclopedic account of the history of the thinking about species... Truly impressive." Science & Education 20120410 "The most comprehensive work of its kind. It will appeal to students in a diverse set of disciplines... Highly recommended." Choice 20100708 "Provides a comprehensive and interesting synthesis of the species problem today in the context of changing ideologies through history." Journal Of Human Evolution Blog 20100706 "Provides a thorough background in this important topic... A valuable resource." Nsta Recommends 20091209 "No other book provides this kind of comprehensive, historical account of the thinking about species. As reference work, this book is impressive." Int'l History, Philosophy, & Science Teaching Group Newsletter 20120423 "A useful source for literature, ideas, and history of the topic." -- James Mallet Integrative & Comparative Bio (Sicb) 20100723 "Provides an encyclopedic history of the idea of species from Plato to the present." Darwinian Conservatism Blog 20090917 "[A] congenial book." Oxford Journal 20110412

About the Author

John S. Wilkins is Research Fellow in Philosophy at the University of Sydney. He is the author of Defining Species: A Sourcebook from Antiquity to Today.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent resource 18 Feb 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is an excellent resource (and interesting read) for anyone teaching species concepts in biology courses or courses in philosophy or history of science. Interesting and exhaustive. But see also recent articles in Trends in Ecology and Evolution on species concepts. In particular, will give you a more nuanced view of pre-Darwinian ideas about species.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Layman's Review 8 Aug 2012
By William Reich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm not a biologist or a philosopher but I found this book extremely interesting and it helped me with a couple of questions that I have been thinking about. Not by _answering_ them, of course, but by bringing up new questions.

I wanted some clues to the question of whether the red wolf of North America is a species or simply a hybrid between the coyote and the gray wolf. Wilkins didn't address this question directly, as who would expect him to. However, he did mention that a species _could_ arize through hybridization, or at least it could under some definitions of species.

And I wanted to know if grizzly bear is the name of a sub-species of brown bear or simply a descriptive term for those brown bears who live in the uplands of the new world. Wilkins didn't address this question directly but it was clear to me after reading his book that grizzly bear cannot be the name of a sub-species unless they all derive from one population of coastal/lowland brown bears. If several populations of lowland brown bears each gave rise to a population of upland bears in the nearest high country, as I think may be true, then they are not a subspecies.

In general, Wilkins discussed the history of the term species, beginning with the ancients who used the term for varieties of mineral as well as life forms, up to the present. He was willing to take on authority figures in the field. He seems to believe that species are real, in that one can observe them, and that the conept is useful, although not rock-solid.

He didn't waste a great deal of time on trivial matters of human origins. And his use of the language was fine,although he is an Australian.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exploring the Essence 10 Mar 2010
By Richard W. Nelson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are looking for a fast and easy reading book that concludes with a contemporary definition of the term "species," Species a History of the Idea is not the book for you.

If you are looking for a detailed history of all the major and minor players with their contributions in the search for essence of the term "species," Species a History of the Idea is definitely the book for you.

The following quote from the Preface is illustrative of the overall style of the book:

"In summary, then, we have three claims that this book is intended to demonstrate: the logical and natural species are distinct ideas that largely share only a term; there was a single species `concept' from antiquity to the arrival of genetics, the generative conception; and types are neither the same as essences nor something that changes much with Darwin."

While the reading is difficult, the material is an indispensible resource in the forensic search for the historical essence of the term "species."

Richard William Nelson

Darwin, Then and Now: The Most Amazing Story in the History of Science
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A thorough history of the species concept 17 Jun 2010
By Marc Andre Lachance - Published on Amazon.com
Wilkins takes us through a time journey from the age of the early Greek philosophers to the current era of evolutionary biology, dissecting the idea of species (and genus). This book is a must-read for those who aspire to competence in biological systematics. We are reminded of the pervasive notion of the Scala Naturae and its impact on Linnean, Lamarckian, and even contemporary thinking. This is contrasted with the unique insights of Darwin, who, according to the author, created the modern species concept while at the same time giving the impression of denying the existence of species as a special taxonomic category. The views of Dobzhansky, Mayr, and Hennig are examined in a new light. My only reason for not giving 5 stars is the occasional bad sentence. The book would have greatly benefited from a close reading by a style editor.
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