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Haeckel--American Scientist



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American Scientist vol 97 no 1 January February 2009 BOOK REVIEW Love Death and Darwinism Sander Gliboff THE TRAGIC SENSE OF LIFE Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought Robert J Richards xx 551 pp University of Chicago Press 2008 39 Decades of intense study of Darwin s life intellectual development and social and political context have generated new kinds of questions about a number of matters the interpersonal networks supporting him the lives of the admirers and critics of his ideas the dissemination and reading of evolutionary works the sources of evolutionism in earlier French German and British thought and Darwin s reception by various national and social groups In the spirit of these expanding horizons of Darwin scholarship The Tragic Sense of Life by Robert J Richards provides not only a biography of the controversial German evolutionist Ernst Haeckel 1834 1919 but also an important piece of the emerging picture of the Darwinian Revolution in its international and intergenerational dimensions Darwin biographers Adrian Desmond and James Moore once remarked that the many previous books on their subject had been curiously bloodless affairs Richards could almost say the same now about the Haeckel literature were it not for the frequent attacks that have battered and bloodied the reputation of Haeckel who has been accused of everything from scientific fraud and incompetence to racism anti Semitism and proto Nazism Richards therefore has a threefold task He must respond to the Haeckel bashing and clean house He must develop a better approach to and a 19th century context for Haeckel s work And he must put the blood back into Haeckel s veins and show us how it once rushed with emotion over loves losses and infatuations boiled with anger at religion and superstition and nourished the brain of a scientific and artistic genius whose ideas pulsed to the rhythms orchestrated by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Alexander von Humboldt and Matthias Jakob



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