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Dawn comes slowly for the scientific study of animals, Ley makes clear in this survey of zoology's history. Using such chapter titles as Man the Hunter, M-t-Thinker, M-t-Cleric, he retells the myths, beliefs, and theories concerning the earth's flora and fauna that have circulated since Neanderthal times. Some of this may be instructive to the student or beginning historian of science, but the general reader may find long passages of false beliefs repeated over the centuries (following Aristotle, Pliny, or other ancients), tedious and restless-making. Especially when this is accompanied by bibliophilic data on the number of folios, books, chapters, or translations the work saw, or discussions of the date, age and birthplace of the writer. Frequently Ley himself begins to sound like his bestiary authors--repeating biographical data enthusiastically and adding condescending remarks about mistaken notions. The irony of this is that you long for the twentieth century to be found wrong, if only to silence the kind of ""of course we now know. . ."" kind of remark Ley too often makes. Where the book is interesting is where the figures described made genuine contributions--men like Albertus Magnus, or a 16th century hero of Ley's named Conrad Gesner, an encyclopedist of animal lore--and in the latter chapters summing up the major events of the Darwin-Wallace era. There is an epilogue detailing the more recent discoveries of animals thought to be fabulous or extinct and notes, illustrations and tables bringing taxonomy up to date.

Pub Date: May 7th, 1968
Publisher: Prentice-Hall