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On Growth and Form by  D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson - First Edition - 1917 - from Mike Park Ltd and Biblio.com

On Growth and Form

by Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth

Condition: Very Good


Cambridge at the University Press, 1917. First edition. A few illustrations within the text, thick octavo, pp xvi, 793, a small blemish to page 11/12, slight age-toning thoughout, otherwise very clean and sound internally, red cloth very slightly worn, with a little fading and blemishing, spine dull and slightly rubbed. With the bookplate and signature of the mycologist E.W. Mason. The bookplate has led to uneven age-toning on the free front endpaper. RARE. [The book has often been seen as the founding statement of an agenda for an analysis of biological phenomena in mathematical terms. Despite obscurities and stylistic idiosyncrasies, it is still referred to in the present age because of its powerful arguments for the importance of physical forces in explaining the morphologies of organisms. The modern reader is likely to find Thompson's style a dominant feature of the writing, particularly in the aspects of his classical background that shows up in his use of allusions and quotations from a vast international range of historical sources. This can appear mannered and more literary than scientific. Nonetheless, the clarity of his meaning is rarely in doubt; the prose is often eloquent and forceful. Thompson's specific intentions have not been fulfilled and his project could be said largely to have failed. The limitations of his approach in detail have become ever more obvious; biology cannot be reduced to mathematics, and now has to look to molecular biology for its foundations. The book covers many topics including the effects of scale on the shape of animals and plants, large ones necessarily being relatively thick in shape; the effects of surface tension in shaping soap films and similar structures such as cells; the logarithmic spiral as seen in mollusc shells and ruminant horns; the arrangement of leaves and other plant parts (phyllotaxis); and Thompson's own method of transformations, showing the changes in shape of animal skulls and other structures on a Cartesian grid. The work is widely admired by biologists, anthropologists and architects among others, but less often read than cited. Peter Medawar explains this as being because it clearly pioneered the use of mathematics in biology, and helped to defeat mystical ideas of vitalism; but that the book is weakened by Thompson's failure to understand the role of evolution and evolutionary history in shaping living structures. Philip Ball and Michael Ruse, on the other hand, suspect that while Thompson argued for physical mechanisms, his rejection of natural selection bordered on vitalism.]. First Edition. Cloth. Very Good.


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