Classic of modern biology sets forth seminal "theory of transformation" - that evolution takes place in large-scale transformations of body as a whole. Over 500 photographs and drawings. In this classic of biology and modern science, Sir D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson (1860-1948), one of the most distinguished scientists of the modern era, sets forth his seminal "theory of transformation" - that one species evolves into another not by successive minor changes in individual body parts but by large-scale transformations involving the body as a whole. First written in 1917, the book was revised by Thompson in 1942 -- the revision reprinted here. The esteem in which this monumental, lavishly illustrated work is universally held derives not only from its scholarship and creativity, but also from the rich literary style that exemplifies Thompson's great erudition in the physical and natural sciences, ancient and modern languages and the humanities. The book begins with studies of organic magnitude, the rate of growth, cellular form and structure, adsorption, and the forms of tissues, then examines a vast spectrum of life forms, and concludes with a comparison of related forms that leads to the theory of transformations.
I can say without hesitating that a good part of the book is boring, specifically the parts full of statistics and concerning rate of growth. But, what would not be immediately obvious to a discerning reader of science, were he to pick this book up and flick through it in order to determine whether or not the contents were of interest, is that underneath all the technical and mathematical writing are hiding observations and conclusions that are not only interesting to the naturalist, or biologist, but would seem remarkable and inspiring to anyone with a sense of curiosity about the natural world, were he to wade far enough into this dense jungle of ancient and modern, obscure and well known, scientific references, illustrations, and quotations, that cover up the most compelling revelations. An example would be how, by thorough presentation of evidence, he demonstrates how the hexagonally arranged honeycomb of the bee comes about not by any design of the bee, but by natural laws of the universe, mathematically determined, being the same laws that cause the hexagonal arrangement of the rock pillars of the Giants Causeway, the minute hexagonal crystals in rock itself, and the hexagonal nature of soap bubbles formed in a dish, alongside that the hexagonal shape of the faces of the skeleton of the microscopic sea creature, and the angles formed between the dividing cells in the embryonic mass. This is but one example, and the thought provoking qualities of this book, due to the authors insight into the unity of what are at first seemingly unrelated phenomena, are enough to make it worth the effort of getting into. The scope of the learning of the author is reassuring, and he references not only contemporary plant biologist, physicists, and mathematicians, but also practically every scientific luminary from Aristotle, to Pythagoras, to Plato, to the incidentally scientifically illustrative author of fiction.
This is not only an illuminating read concerning natural phenomena existing in the realm of biology, but it is a worthy example of ingenious cross-disciplinary scientific thought. Never before, or since, as far as I am aware, have mathematics and physics been so productively used to clear away the mysteries, and reduce to clarity so diverse a range of biological puzzles.
One thing that may concern the potential reader is the age of this book, and whether or not this may impact the relevance and accuracy of the content. Despite being first published in 1917, and updated in the forties, very little in this book is wrong. All that is lacking is a knowledge of molecular biology and genetics, a branch of biology almost non-existent when the book was first written, and irrelevant to most of the conclusions. The observations made here are mostly not things taught to the modern biologist in any stage of his education, but nevertheless remain things which would provide a fresh way of looking at things, a way which is almost always interesting, be it not always useful.
Certainly not a book for everyone, this should be worth at least skimming through to the best bits for the biologist and the mathematician.