A Visionary Naturalist
This was a revolutionary idea—and one vigorously opposed by Geoffroy's colleague Georges Cuvier, a great anatomist and one of the giants of French science. In 1830, their long-running disagreement erupted into furious public debate. Geoffroy argued that all vertebrates shared the same basic body plan not just with each other but with insects as well. Cuvier strenuously disputed this idea, which he saw as tantamount to a belief in "transformism"—arguing instead that each species had its own special and permanent form.
With Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Hervé Le Guyader provides an analysis not only of that infamous debate but also of Geoffroy's bold intuitions about anatomy and development. Featuring Geoffroy's published version of the 1830 debates—translated into English for the first time—the book also illustrates how Geoffroy's prescient insights foreshadowed some of the most recent discoveries in evolutionary and developmental biology.
“Anglophone biologists and historians of science will be glad to have these scarce and important works so readily available. . . . The deeper reasons why Geoffroy still matters are the approaches he and Cuvier framed and fought over, rather than any specific answers he gave. Their views decisively shaped our science.”
“With a fascinating reappraisal of some of the key figures and events in the development of modern evolutionary theory, Le Guyader provides a succinct yet penetrating tract on a man whose true brilliance is only now, with the new understandings of molecular biology, being fully appreciated. The book’s translator, Marjorie Grene, is to be congratulated, too, for bringing both Le Guyader’s writing and many original nineteenth-century texts to an anglophone audience.”