Cover: Sparks of Life: Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation, from Harvard University PressCover: Sparks of Life in PAPERBACK

Sparks of Life

Darwinism and the Victorian Debates over Spontaneous Generation

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Product Details


$37.00 • £29.95 • €33.50

ISBN 9780674009998

Publication Date: 10/15/2002


304 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

2 halftones, 2 line illustrations


In accessible language and an engaging narrative style, Strick navigates through the Victorian power politics of both observational and experimental science (Darwin’s immediate 19th-century legacy) and the old (and inevitable) rifts between men of science and arrogant medical practitioners. He illuminates especially the European backdrop and the relations of the debates over spontaneous generation to the ‘big questions.’—Lynn Margulis, Science

Sparks of Life provides a fascinating, scholarly account of the 19th century spontaneous generation controversy that raged in England which focuses on the work of Henry Charlton Bastian… Strick’s highly readable account of English microbiology during the late Victorian period is superb and unlikely to be bettered—a must for everyone interested in the development of both microbiology and biology in general.—Milton Wainwright, Microbiology Today

Between 1860 and 1880, the scientific community vigorously debated the doctrine of spontaneous generation…and it held sway for generations before being challenged in the era of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Strick investigates the evidence brought to bear on this controversy, including improvements in microscope technology, laboratory techniques, and experimental method, all of which helped author germ theory. Strick also treats conceptual changes and public controversy that lay beneath the research and scientific advances of Darwin’s era.Science News

[Strick] explores the debate in Victorian Britain (1860–80) over the view that life was formed from nonliving matter (spontaneous generation or abiogenesis), against the background of controversy generated by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and development of the germ theory of disease… The author strives to connect…diverse issues, making the work…attractive to those well versed in the scientific and historical details.—J.S. Schwartz, Choice

With impressive scholarship, Strick examines the major books, articles, lectures, and letters on, as well as experiments and institutions involved with, the origin of life controversies in scientific philosophy. He rigorously analyzes the complex Victorian (1860–80) debates surrounding the idea of spontaneous generation… He also emphasizes the social aspects and personal interests that influenced those arguments offered by both naturalists and physicians. The result of prodigious research, Sparks of Life is highly recommended.—H. James Birx, Library Journal

A very important contribution to the literature of the spontaneous generation debates, one that ties together many parts of the story that have never been dealt with in one place. More important, Strick has placed his narrative in the context not only of recent scholarship on Pasteur, Tyndall, Huxley, and the X-Club, but he also provides a contextualist analysis that shows far more clearly exactly how and why the debates took the course they did. A very fine piece of work.—Garland E. Allen, Washington University

By focusing on Darwin’s London and Pasteur’s Paris, explaining the issues and historical approaches to both, Strick knits together the academic topics of Darwinian evolution, the Pasteurization of France, and germ theories of disease—by means of a deep study of specific Darwinian medical men in England and their recourse to spontaneous generation. We thereby sense that the book is pleasingly overarching, while at the same time focused.—Adrian Desmond, author of Huxley: From Devil’s Disciple to Evolution’s High Priest

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