Here is the doyen of systematics/taxonomy—a biologist who has witnessed the major revolutions in the field in the 20th century. So a volume of memoirs would be most welcome. Alas, no, what we have are didactic lectures on biology and the need to settle a few intellectual scores. To begin with, Mayr takes up arms against philosophy—narrowly construed as philosophy of science. The reason? Ever since Newton, the philosophes have taken physics as the model science, regarding biology as a second-rate pursuit based merely on observations. Thomas Kuhn gets his comeuppance when Mayr denies that biology follows the model of long periods of ``normal'' science punctuated by findings that radically change the paradigm. Given the enormous success of molecular biology and the absence of philosophical debate in the prestigious science journals (except in areas of ethics), these chapters seem largely gratuitous. For the rest, Mayr says he has written the book to provide a perspective on the whole field of biology for fellow biologists suffering the myopia that is endemic as the science splits into finer and finer specialties. He does this by addressing the how, what, and why questions biologists ask, answering them in terms of chronologies of four areas of biology he knows well: biodiversity, developmental biology, evolution, and ecology. There is some excellent material here, although at times larded with jargon (the conscientious will find the glossary helpful). But again, Mayr draws back from just those areas—molecular and cell biology—that have so transformed the field. To his credit, he maintains an open mind on today's celebrated controversies, wisely noting that dichotomous views (e.g., nature vs. nurture) are often resolved by finding not in favor of one or the other alone, but rather that both together are important. Faced with this didactic piece, let us hope that there is still more to come from Mayr—an autobiography or at least a glimpse of the life and times of one of biology's greats.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)