Written by an investigator and teacher or experimental embryology, this book is designed to emphasize the coherence between history of science and experimental science and to bring the experience of past discoveries into the modern laboratory.
The essays are arranged roughly in reverse chronological order. To quote Professor Oppenheimer: “it is my belief that we understand our contemporaries better than those from whom time separates us farther. The design of [this] volume is thus intended to conduct us from what we know best toward what we see only more dimly.”
Professor Oppenheimer has not intended to construct a detailed and continuous history but instead has selected for specific discussion problems intellectually teasing and historically remarkable. In what way do contemporary development biologists draw upon the contributions of their forebears? How does a laboratory scientist learn to pose the right questions? What influence did knowledge of embryology exert upon the genesis of Darwin's formulation of the theory of evolution? How did Sir Thomas Browne's approach to the experimental method fail, while John Hunter developed it successfully later? Why was it William Harvey, and not one of his many able predecessors or contemporaries, who calculated the flow of blood through the heart? These and many other questions are the material from which this book is drawn. Professor Oppenheimer's approach adds a rare dimension to literature in the history of science: the experience of a practicing research scientist who views a knowledge of her predecessor's achievements as an indispensable aid in her own research work. The learning, dedication, and masterful literary style that Professor Oppenheimer brings to this book make it a volume of special value to the experimental scientist, to the historian of biology and medicine, and to the interested layman alike.