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The Man Who Invented the Chromosome: A Life of Cyril Darlington Hardcover – 18 Jun 2004
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Cyril Darlington was the leading cytologist in Britain between 1930 and 1950, and a major figure in the British genetics community, as well-known for his cantankerous personality as for his science... Overall, Harman has done an excellent job of portraying Darlington's stormy personal and scientific life, bringing out his flaws as well as his achievements.--Brian Charlesworth"Nature Medicine" (10/01/2004)
Harman does a good job of explaining the complex intellectual and technical problems in genetics and cytology and helps us understand the central importance of cytology to the modern conception of genes and genetic processes... This book clearly fills a void. Darlington should be better known, to both historians and scientists alike... This is a book that nobody who is interested in the history of twentieth-century genetics can afford to overlook.--Manfred D. Laubichler "Journal of the History of Medicine "
Highly original and brilliantly accomplished, this is the first scholarly biography of Darlington and a richly effective one. Harman has based it on Darlington's diaries, letters, and other papers, on extensive reading in other primary sources, and on authoritative knowledge of the secondary literature. The author wears his learning lightly, deftly integrating his research into a highly readable, engaging, and lucid narrative. It will surely find an appreciative audience among geneticists, evolutionary biologists, and cytologists as well as among historians of those fields and of eugenics.--Daniel J. Kevles, author of The Baltimore Case: A Trial of Politics, Science, and Character
Harman's brilliant book--the first and, almost surely, the definitive biography--wrests the earlier Darlington from the later crank, recovering him as a human being and restoring him to scientific eminence. Drawing on Darlington's voluminous papers, correspondence, and diaries, Harman recounts the personal odyssey that took his subject from a bleak childhood to high achievement in the new genetics; his scientific and political engagements, particularly his differences over Lysenko with his fellow biologists, many of them on the left; and his slide into the cantankerous biological conservatism that marked his later years. Harman writes in supple prose and with capacious discernment, providing a portrait of the man that is at once empathetic and critical, a study in character and personality that illuminates his science as well as his personal and professional lives.-- (05/02/2005)
As Oren Solomon Harman shows in The Man Who Invented the Chromosome, Darlington's controversial cytological research clarified many basic biological issues and provided essential evidence for the evolutionary synthesis of the 1940s. He 'invented' the chromosome by describing its behaviour in a way that made genetic and evolutionary sense... A strong commitment to an evolutionary perspective led Darlington to some unpopular conclusions, which he published in books and articles aimed at a wide audience. Convinced that biological principles, especially genetics, dictate human values, he espoused strong eugenic programmes... He felt that the time had come for science to determine morality: religion and politics should be replaced by evolutionary logic for individuals, countries and humanity... Harman provides a cautionary tale for those who seek to tie our humanity too closely to what is found in our chromosomes.-- (09/30/2004)
Darlington's archives are a rich seam to which Oren Solomon Harman brings a keen eye. He combines impressive contextual knowledge with touches of biographical flair.-- (10/09/2004)
Born by mistake, or connivance, to struggling parents in a small Lancashire cotton town in 1903, an uninspired Darlington inadvertently escaped the obscurity of farming life and rose instead, against all odds, to become within a few short years the world's greatest expert on chromosomes, and one of the most penetrating biological thinkers of the twentieth century. Harman follows Darlington's path from bleak prospects to world fame, showing how, within the most minuscule of worlds, he sought answers to the biggest questions - how species originate, how variation occurs, how Nature, both blind and foreboding, random and insightful, makes her way from deep past to unknown future. But Darlington did not stop there: Chromosomes held within their tiny confines untold, dark truths about man and his culture. This passionate conviction led the once famed Darlington down a path of rebuke, isolation, and finally obscurity.As The Man Who Invented the Chromosome unfolds Darlington's forgotten tale - the Nazi atrocities, the Cold War, the crackpot Lysenko, the molecular revolution, eugenics, civil rights, the welfare state, the changing views of man's place in nature, biological determinism - all were interconnected. Just as Darlington's work provoked him to ask questions about the link between biology and culture, his life raises fundamental questions about the link between science and society. See all Product description
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Darlington was a confirmed materialist, hard headed scientist, but was positively attracted by controversy, and a rather intolerant, arrogant character to boot. He had many enemies, but was a forceful and prominent public voice, who relished his role. This combination makes for a lively biography, and deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in the history of the development of the "modern synthesis" of evolutionary thought. He was a driving force for much of it.
Darlington was during the 1940's to the 1980's a sort of early version of Richard Dawkins, and was opposed for many years by JBS Haldane, who was a sort of early version of Stephen Jay Gould. Many of the controversies, being rooted in deep-seated views of human nature, have hardly changed. There is the Marxist version of a faith in the malleability of man by wishful thinking, opposed by hard lessons drawn from science, evolutionary theory and the observation that man is a creature acting in accordance with hereditary behaviors which have developed differently in different races. Not for Darlington the notion that race is a "social construct" or that IQ is a "reified" useless hypotheis, the same for all races. He was a sociobiologist well before the term was invented.
The first part of the book that deals with Darlingtons cytogenetics is not the easiest read, dealing as it does with a pretty arcane subject in perhaps a little too much detail, even for the informed reader. The old controversies about such things as parsynapsis vs telosynapsis, are enfolded in a vocabulary that will be intimidating to many readers. I wish, though, that he had covered in a little more detail the methods of cytogenetics, the stains used, the sample preparation methods, and so on. Just how hard was it to prepare an informative experiment? A little more about the influence of Darlington's cytological insights on the conventional modern practice of the art would have been welcome too.
No matter--skip on to the major part of the book where Harman covers the course of the debate over the nature of man and the insights brought by an evolutionary perspective. The meat of the book is here.
In his later years, as for all scientists who live a long time, the main developments in his science began to become too much for him--molecular biology, psychometrics, and a bevy of new techniques were to add much that he could appreciate, but could contribute very little. Exploring the big picture, speculating, theorizing and publicizing became his game, and we are better off for it.
Harman has done a splendid job in this biography--he writes clearly, and has a very good understanding of his subject. It is based on exhaustive research and interviews and will be the definitive work for a long time. The many pictures bring the story to life, and make for a lively read. I enjoyed the book a lot and even re-read much of it for a second time!
I found the story behind Harman's `unlikely scientific hero' consistently engaging. The author does a superb job of seamlessly weaving together the many colorful strands of the social and scientific fabric that served as backdrop to Darlington's life. With Harman as a guide, the reader gains a unique first-hand appreciation for Darlington's days, reliving them as heady times for genetics in particular and for society as a whole.
A must-read for all those in the know. Amongst the best biographies I have come across.