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The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought.

The Life Sciences in Eighteenth-Century French Thought, by Jacques Roger. Translated by Robert Ellrich. Edited by K.R. Benson. Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1997. xliv, 760 pp. $75.00.

I have one good reason for not writing a detailed review of this English translation of the late Jacques Roger's Les Sciences de la vie dans la Pensee francaise du [XVIII.sup.e] Siecle, first published in 1963 and republished in 1971 and 1993. It has become a classic and no student who aspires to have any understanding of the history of biology, let alone the history of eighteenth century French biology, can afford not to have already read this book in its original language. It is where I started my serious work on the history of biology and even today it remains, as Paul Farber has noted, "one of the few modern classics that has not aged." By opening this book to a even wider audience, Robert Ellrich's magnificent English translation will ensure that indeed this book will never age.

To bring the book up-to-date, Keith Benson, the driving force behind this translation, has added a brief supplementary bibliography which, unfortunately, was into print before the appearance of Clara Pinto-Correia's The Ovary of Eve. Egg and Sperm and Preformation (University of Chicago Press, 1997) and which, also unfortunately, includes his own unpublished master's thesis! I am not sure I really approve of such obvious self-advertising. But Benson should be praised for including the translation of Roger's L'Histoire des sciences: Problemes et practiques, written only three years before his death in 1990 and subsequently published as the preface to the 1993 edition. In it Roger takes issue with what has become known as the "strong programme" associated with the Edinburgh-based group to whom, in Roger's words, "science is simply one of the products of social activity." Without naming us, he takes pot-shots too at Geison and myself, following our article on Pouchet and Pasteur. But as I tell all who will listen, I had no idea that our emphasis on "external factors" in the history of science would be carried to such absurd lengths as it has.

I suppose one can make one negative remark about this translation. One can only hope that now North American students of eighteenth century science outside francophone Quebec can read such an important book in English, they will not assume that they can work in that time frame without first becoming reasonably fluent in French.

John Farley (Retired) Dalhousie University
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Farley, John
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1999
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