French Biology in the Decades Before
Darwin. Toby A. Appel. Oxford
University Press, New York, 1987.
305 pp. $35.
Did the egg determine the chicken or did the chicken determine the egg? In organisms, does form determine function or does function determine form? These two questions make equal sense or nonsense, but by centering her presentation on a particular debate regarding relationships between form and function, Toby Appel has illuminated brilliantly the French intellectual scene in the 19th century.
Her protagonists, Georges Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Sainte Hilaire, already have been the subjects of good biographies. Their debate, held in several sessions before the Académie des Sciences in Paris between April and June 1830, also has received earlier historical attention. Appel’s unique contribution broadens the debate’s focus to reveal wider and deeper dimensions of its significance. Under consideration are not only biological aspects of the debate, but also its religious,...