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 Based on a series of popular lectures at the New York Public Library, this collection features original essays by leading writers and thinkers in the sciences: Jonathan Miller, Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel J. Kevles, R.C. Lewontin, and Oliver Sacks. The emphasis of the collection is on biology and psychology. Miller begins with a discussion of the history of the discovery of the unconscious mind in pre-Freudian times, with the early investigators of hypnotism (some no better than charlatans) as the main focus. Gould examines two metaphors of evolutionary development: the ladder, which implies a steady improvement through time, and the cone, which implies increasing diversity and complexity; both oversimplify the actual historical record to suggest that human beings are somehow at the pinnacle of evolution. Kevles looks at how the medical establishment has slowly and reluctantly accepted the evidence that some cancers are caused by viruses. Lewontin examines the complex relations between heredity and environment, highlighting flaws in the notion that every organism's fate is strictly determined by genetic factors. Finally, Sacks looks back into the 19th century's medical texts and discovers that our predecessors were aware of many neurological and psychological disorders that we have decided to forget. While not every reader is likely to find all the essays equally interesting or equally lucid, each of the writers has made an exceptional effort to present his material clearly and comprehensively. An excellent examination of important issues in the biological sciences; a companion volume discussing the physical sciences in similar style and depth would be a welcome addition to the New York Review catalogue.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-940322-03-X
Page count: 200pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1995