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Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science Hardcover – 18 Dec 2014
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magisterial biography (London Review of Books)
David Todes has spent more then twenty years with his subject, and has evidently approached his task with the same dedication that Pavlov kept up through his many decades in the lab. Tode's sources range from the whimsical and self-revealing "journal" with which Pavlov wooed his future wife in 1879 to NKVD surveillance reports on his mood more than half a century later, from documents on the student Pavlov's very first research into nervous control of the organs to taped interviews with his co-workers several decades after his death. The result is history of science at its intricate best. (Stephen Lovell, The Times Literary Supplement)
Well written, thoroughly researched and extremely readable... (Biologist)
Daniel P. Todes achieves a level of mastery that transforms biography into history... an exemplary work of scholarship (Science, Stephen T. Casper)
a colossal work of scholarship and imagination (Raymond Tallis, Book of the Year 2014, Times Literary Supplement)
Profoundly researched, densely detailed and likely to be definitive (Nature)
About the Author
Daniel P. Todes is Professor, Institute of History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University
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The book is long too, but I wish it were even longer, going back further in medical history, for just one example. I wish too that the author had elaborated more than he did (in just the last chapter) on the significance of Pavlov's ideas today as we still struggle to decipher the mind-body interface.
For all the depth the book goes into, some care could have been taken to edit out some details (or to put them into a better organized appendix). In terms of personal details, the book goes into depth about random facts such as how much tea Pavlov drank and how he planted his garden-- pieces of information that would have been more interesting in moderation. Similar detail goes into descriptions of Pavlov's research, albeit I believe it is more warranted here. One section that was highlighted in the New Yorker review, and that is representative, is as follows:
"The total amount of secretion in trials 6 and 8 is too low, and the slope of these curves diverges markedly at several points from that in trial 1. Trial 9 fits trial 1 more snugly than does trial 5 in terms of total secretion, but the amount of secretion more than doubles in the second hour, contrasting sharply with the slight decline in trial 1. Trial 10 is again a good fit in terms of total amount of secretion, but the amount of secretion rises inappropriately in the fourth hour.”
The parts of the book about Pavlov's experiences in Communist Soviet Union were especially interesting. This book is a must buy for any scientist, science historian, or student of Russian history.
The meticulous research shows in every detail. Yet the author deploys his expertise to the service of an enthralling narrative. The daily life of Pavlov during the best of times as well as the suffering in crises is described as never before, shedding light on the experiences of other scientists as well.
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