Richards really does a fine job thoroughly rinsing off his mud-wrestling evolutionist, though. If Ernst still walked the globe, he would owe Richards a fruit basket. He was an amazing artist.
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His drawings of nature are justly still marveled at to this day. EH's debt to the romantics, especially Goethe, was repaid with interest throughout his life. He appeared to be loyal to Darwin until the latter's death, and then beyond. His devotion to his first wife was almost godlike, his commitment to scientific discovery in nature total.
Unfortunately, EH's story cannot end there. His pugilistic temperament offended even his friends. He inflicted his vicious barbs without pity, he erupted volcanically over slights, whether real and self created.
He co-opted his student's work on sponges, published his work on the subject right after his student had, and then jettisoned the student after the whole affair became too embarrassing or tiresome. His second wife was doomed to a loveless marriage of raising children and keeping a clean house as her husband took frequent trips to collect fossils and sexual encounters with handy natives. He committed outright fraud by reproducing a single woodcut three times in the first edition of his first popular work on evolution and claimed they represented three separate embryos from different animals to prove his particular theories of evolution.
The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought
In subsequent additions he offered only one picture of this embryo. The mere fact that the man who never backed down from a fight backed down clearly demonstrates the conscious deception, attempted then withdrawn when uncovered. He moved different races up and down his stem charts according to his prejudicial whims at the time. His battle against dogmatic religions of all origin became a merciless battle that solidified his quest for learning and science into the hardness of as a fierce a dogma as any he crossed swords with. Richards does his best with all this, as best he can.
Reprinting the same woodcut is offered as being a cheap substitute for the expense of three different examples. Darwin felt the Irish were knaves and women as a rule were dumber than men. If EH was a racist, everyone else was doing it, too. EH's theory concerning recapitulation is treated at length, as it should be. The study of recapitulation in embryos offered an interesting analogy, though empirically false, for real evolutionary descent.
No longer, allegedly, could a wise guy retort to the evolutionary scientist that no one had ever seen anyone or anything evolve. Haeckel thought he had demonstrated that indeed everyone had done it by birth themselves. Too bad they weren't paying attention. EH's more whimsical predilections are touched upon, though very lightly. His brief infatuation with the lost land of Lemuria to explain gaps in the fossil record makes for entertaining reading.
You won't, I should warn you, be entertained for long. Richards won't linger over these wacky nuggets. The fact he brings them up at all does demonstrate his commitment to presenting a full, though biased, history on his subject. For this, Richards deserves proper praise. This work offers Haeckel's personal story as well as his intellectual ideas.
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It's detail concerning both is formidable. I must say I agree with Richards that calling Haeckel a proto-Nazi is about as useful as calling anyone a proto-Nazi who has had absolutely no connection to the political regime known as the Third Reich. Haeckel's attachment to the art of science as art, as beauty, as poetry is found in the works of many naturalists to this day. It seems appropriate that this true artist of nature should have his share of worshippers today.
However, if you're not the worshipping kind then this book will likely leave you as agnostic as when you began it. See all 7 reviews. Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers.
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This article is also available for rental through DeepDyve. View Metrics. The error was corrected in subsequent editions, but the charge of fraud stuck and haunted Haeckel for the rest of his life. This mistake unleashed a torrent of abuse directed at Haeckel, including death threats. It became so bad that he contemplated suicide in the s. In , Haeckel married Agnes Huschke, the daughter of a fellow Jena scientist. Although they had three children, it was not a happy marriage.
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In his lifetime Haeckel produced more than twenty large technical monographs on aspects of biology, books that remain standard reference works today. But as Richards argues, by stepping into the limelight, Haeckel paid the price of obscurity for his scientific research:. Yet his own success as a popularizer, ironically, did as much to cast his extraordinary science into the shadows as did the negligent attitude of subsequent scholars. How then to measure the significance of this remarkable yet neglected figure?
It seemed that all problems of heaven and earth were solved simply and convincingly; there was an answer to every question which troubled the young mind. By the Great War it had sold , copies. Richards succeeds brilliantly in re-establishing Haeckel as a significant scientist and a major figure in the history of evolutionary thought.
As the author of an earlier and equally impressive study of how Romanticism shaped biological thought in the first half of nineteenth century, The Romantic Conception of Life , Richards is ideally qualified for this task. In his own day he was a hugely controversial figure and a hate-figure for many Christians due to his relentless harrying of their cherished beliefs.
The accusations of falsifying illustrations dogged him to his grave and posterity has not looked favourably on his work. Indeed, many contemporary historians — among them Stephen Jay Gould and Daniel Gasman — have regarded his influence as pernicious and even accused him of furnishing the Nazis with racist theories, despite the fact that in the s his works were banned along with those of Einstein.
Robert J. Richards: The Tragic Sense of Life Pages 1 - 7 - Text Version | FlipHTML5
Richards examines these accusations in forensic detail and argues convincingly that they are misplaced. In , he received a fan letter from a minor member of the aristocracy, Frida von Uslar-Gleichen. It was the beginning of an intense yet poignant love affair. Frida was born in the year Anna died and he came to see her as the reincarnation of his first love.
Their secret correspondence over six hundred passionate letters reveals that they dreamed of eloping together to a tropical island. It was brought to a terrible end in when Frida — who was suffering from a debilitating heart condition — committed suicide. For Haeckel it was a particularly cruel blow, one compounded by the fact that he had supplied her with the lethal dose of morphine. He lived to the age of 85, writing and researching until the very end. For it was only thanks to his science that he was able to rise above the tragedy of life. Before that I wrote a cultural history of science and superweapons called Doomsday Men , a biography of Einstein , and a study of science and literature.