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Make your own monster

Adrian Woolfson: In search of the secrets of biological form

6 January 2005
Mutants: On the Form, Varieties and Errors of the Human Body 
by Armand Marie Leroi.
HarperCollins, 431 pp., £20, May 2004, 0 00 257113 7
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Jacob’s Ladder: The History of the Human Genome 
by Henry Gee.
Fourth Estate, 272 pp., £20, March 2004, 1 84115 734 1
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... if too many errors are introduced into the genome of an organism, its core information will melt away; too few, and there would be insufficient variation for evolution to work with. In Mutants, ArmandMarieLeroi argues that in order to understand how people’s bodies are constructed, biologists need now to focus their attention on the bestiary of human variation, both normal and extreme. As ...

The Name of the Beast

Armand Marie Leroi

11 December 1997
Buffon 
by Jacques Roger.
Cornell, 492 pp., £39.50, August 1997, 0 8014 2918 8
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The Platypus and the Mermaid and Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination 
by Harriet Ritvo.
Harvard, 274 pp., £19.95, November 1997, 0 674 67357 3
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... During the second half of the 18th century, the great enterprise of sorting out the biological world was at its most dynamic and magnificent. Empire-builders were sending home animals, indeed entire faunas, of a strangeness that defied traditional taxonomies. Scientifically-minded farmers were calculating pedigrees and codifying breeds in the quest for improved stock; physicians and surgeons were giving ...

A Duck Folded in Half

Armand Marie Leroi

19 June 1997
Before the Backbone: Views on the Origins of the Vertebrates 
by Henry Gee.
Chapman and Hall, 346 pp., £35, August 1996, 0 412 48300 9
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... The evening of 22 August 1799 – the eve of his departure from Egypt – was surely one of the less happy that Napoleon Bonaparte had known. Unusually mindful of the mortality of empires, he is said to have declared to the mathematician Gaspard Monge, one of a collection of savants he had brought to Egypt, that he would far rather be a Newton than an Alexander. To which Monge replied that no one could ...
4 September 1997
Guns, Germs and Steel 
by Jared Diamond.
Cape, 480 pp., £18.99, April 1997, 0 224 03809 5
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Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality 
by Jared Diamond.
Weidenfeld, 176 pp., £11.99, July 1997, 0 297 81775 2
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... The Martiniquan poet and ideologue of négritude, Aimé Césaire, celebrated the sons and daughters of Africa as Ceux qui n’ont inventé ni la poudre ni la boussole ceux qui n’ont jamais su dompter la vapeur ni l’électricité ceux qui n’ont exploré ni les mers ni le ciel Césaire was too modest. Not only did Africans south of the Sahara fail to invent gunpowder, the compass, gas and electricity ...

Sing, Prance, Ruffle, Bellow, Bristle and Ooze

Armand Marie Leroi: Social Selection

17 September 1998
The Handicap Principle 
by Amotz Zahavi and Avishag Zahavi.
Oxford, 286 pp., £18.99, October 1997, 0 19 510035 2
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The Social Animal 
by W.G. Runciman.
HarperCollins, 230 pp., £14.99, February 1998, 0 00 255862 9
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... For the past three years, the London School of Economics has been holding a seminar series, or rather a salon, snappily titled Darwin@LSE. These seminars are always invigorating, and never more so than one evening this February when W.G. Runciman urged the necessity of refounding sociology along Darwinian lines. Weary of such pronouncements though they might be, even the most sceptical sociologists ...

Megafauna

Adrienne Mayor: Aristotle and Science

1 July 2015
The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science 
by Armand Marie Leroi.
Bloomsbury, 501 pp., £25, August 2014, 978 1 4088 3620 0
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... the ‘scientific method’ was first practised by Aristotle, whose works on natural history – including his grand treatise on comparative zoology, the History of Animals – are the subject of ArmandMarieLeroi’s new book. Aristotle may be most famous for his Physics and Politics, but his most voluminous writings were biological. Leroi celebrates him as the first truly scientific thinker, in a ...

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