Read by Ben Sullivan
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Throughout most of human history, babies were surprises. People knew the basics: men and women had sex, and sometimes babies followed. But beyond that the origins of life were a colossal mystery. The Seeds of Life is the remarkable and rollicking story of how a series of blundering geniuses and brilliant amateurs struggled for two centuries to discover where, exactly, babies come from.
Taking a page from investigative thrillers, acclaimed science writer Edward Dolnick looks to these early scientists as if they were detectives hot on the trail of a bedeviling and urgent mystery. These strange searchers included an Italian surgeon using shark teeth to prove that female reproductive organs were not ‘failed’ male genitalia, and a Catholic priest who designed ingenious miniature pants to prove that frogs required semen to fertilize their eggs.
A witty and rousing history of science, The Seeds of Life presents our greatest scientists struggling-against their perceptions, their religious beliefs, and their deep-seated prejudices-to uncover how and where we come from.
Finalist for the 2017 Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction
"An engaging and exuberant tour through centuries of thought about reproduction."
—Wall Street Journal
"Dolnick weaves a suspenseful tale of discovery, failure and often just plain weirdness while never losing sight of the mystery at hand."
"As a record of a long biological quest, The Seeds of Life is full of detours, but that structure mimics the nature of scientific progress, illustrating how science is promoted or held back by colorful characters, by state and church intrusion or assistance, never lacking for rivalries and power struggles. Fascinating reading, Dolnick's book should evoke in us a sense of humility rather than amusement at the ignorance of the scientists of old."
—New York Times Book Review
"Full of intriguing anecdotes and colorful historical figures."
"Edward Dolnick's absorbing detective story spans outlandish ancient theories on baby-making and the nineteenth-century dawn of embryology, led by pioneers such as Oscar Hertwig."
"The Seeds of Life is science-history writing at its very best. It tells a great story that reads like a mystery novel. But Dolnick also uses the story to demonstrate how science advances: through curiosity, brilliant insight, analogy, logic, experimentation, and hard work. Equally, he shows how it can be retarded by unexamined assumptions, ad hominem arguments, misplaced ego, and stubborn adherence to outworn theories."
"Combining first-class research and a truly delightful writing style, Dolnick shares his fascination with the
history of science and our perception of reproduction in this enlightening and enjoyable read."
"A story with many wrong turns and near misses, skillfully tantalizing modern readers with hints of a great truth obscured by lack of information. [Dolnick] does an excellent job of explaining the critical role that religion played for early modern biologists."
"A delightful history...[The Seeds of Life is] the best sort of science history, explaining not only how great men made great discoveries, but why equally great men, trapped by prejudices and what seemed to be plain common sense, missed what was in front of their noses."
—Kirkus, starred review
"Edward Dolnick delightfully unravels the strange, unreal, and often laugh-inducing tales born from man's long quest to find out 'where babies come from.' Well-researched and engagingly written, The Seeds of Life is a charmer of history: quotable, fast-paced, and a reminder that science's messy, fumbling, and flat-out faulty progress is often much stranger than fiction!"
—Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, author of Dr. Mutter's Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
"Like all good history, The Seeds of Life reminds us of so much we take for granted. Any high school student who pays attention in biology class knows some secrets about sex that eluded generations of brilliant investigators. In clear and engaging prose, Edward Dolnick traces the fascinating breakthroughs, and even more interesting blind alleys, explored by these pioneers of procreation. It's a history lesson and a biology lesson, enriched by vivid portraits of the often eccentric but always remarkable men who wielded scalpels and microscopes, trying to explain where babies come from."
—Ernest Freeberg, author of The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
"A wonderful, astonishing story, beautifully told. Edward Dolnick has surpassed himself (and everyone else)!"
—David Wootton, author of The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution
- On Sale
- Jun 6, 2017
- Hachette Audio