An entertaining history of the first scientists who struggled to answer the question of how, exactly, humans create new life.
Despite tremendous advances in science and exploration, by the dawn of the modern age people still did not know where babies came from. Many agreed on the basics-that men and women had sex and as a result, sometimes, babies-but beyond this consensus ended. Unlocking this secret took centuries of ludicrous missteps and bungled discoveries, impelled by the extraordinary drive and hubris of some of humanity’s greatest scientists.
The Seeds of Life is a remarkable history of the scientists who struggled mightily to crack the code of human conception and to prove how and where babies come from. Taking a page from investigative thrillers, acclaimed science writer Edward Dolnick looks to each of these blundering geniuses and brilliant amateurs as if they were detectives hot on the trail of a bedeviling and urgent mystery. The action jumps from England and Holland in the 1600s-during a golden age of anatomy and dissection-onward to France and Italy in the 1700s-where a great battle is waged over whether sperm or egg is the dominant element-finally landing in Germany in the 1800s-when microscopes finally, after centuries of speculation, allowed scientists to actually witness fertilization.
The protagonists on this centuries-long quest are remarkable characters in their own right: the list includes Leonardo da Vinci, creator of fantastic anatomical drawings but fanatically disgusted by the sexual act; William Harvey, celebrity scientist who dissected countless rutting deer without ever finding the first signs of conception; Antony van Leewenhoek, a microscope pioneer and self-taught scientist, who introduced the world to bacteria and other organisms too small for the naked eye-and yet mistook the sperm cells he discovered as mere parasites; and Lazzaro Spallanzi, an enquiring Catholic priest who designed ingenious miniature boxer-shorts to prove that frogs required semen to fertilize their eggs.
We live in a world where many of the mysteries of human existence have been carefully explained and catalogued; Dolnick’s The Seeds of Life offers readers a chance to recapture the wonder and awe of discovery. 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 the deepest mysteries of life.
Available June 06, 2017 from Hachette Audio as a digital download, Hardcover and eBook from Basic Books.
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