IVAN PAVLOV by Daniel P. Todes


A Russian Life in Science
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An expansive scholarly biography of Russia's most eminent scientist.

Todes (Institute of History of Medicine/Johns Hopkins Univ.; Pavlov's Physiology Factory: Experiment, Interpretation, Laboratory Enterprise, 2001, etc.) traces the evolution of Ivan Pavlov's groundbreaking discoveries in the context of Russian history over the span of his life (1849-1936). This is the culmination of a decadeslong study of the scientist, whose name is iconic in the world of behaviorist psychology but whose work, according to Todes, is misunderstood. The author establishes that, unlike American behaviorists, Pavlov never “denied the importance or even the existence of an inner, subjective world. He also never used the term “conditioned reflex.” He used the term “conditional” to describe the salivation of dogs expecting food upon receiving a signal such as the sound of a bell. The intention of the term was to distinguish “conditional reflexes,” which might or might not occur, from automatic, unconditional responses—e.g., caused by direct contact of food with the salivary glands. By the time Pavlov embarked on his well-known work with dogs, he had already received the Nobel Prize, which was awarded to him in 1904 for his studies on digestive physiology. These involved tracing how the arousal of appetite acted to stimulate “the secretory nerves of the gastric glands” and was followed up by excitations produced when food “excites the specialized nerves in the mucous membrane of the stomach.” Politically a liberal, Pavlov welcomed the 1905 revolution, but he was not a supporter of the Bolsheviks. Nevertheless, his prominence on the international stage was significant enough that he was able to pursue his research and even travel abroad. In 1935, a year before his death, he organized and hosted the International Congress of Physiologists in Leningrad.

A comprehensive, nuanced picture of Pavlov's life and times and his seminal contributions to science.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2014
ISBN: 978-0199925193
Page count: 848pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014


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