Beginning with the discovery of genes on chromosomes and culminating with the unmasking of the most minute genetic mysteries, the 20th century saw astounding and unprecedented progress in the science of biology. In an illustrious career that spanned most of the century, biologist John Bonner witnessed many of these advances firsthand. Part autobiography, part history of the extraordinary transformation of biology in his time, this is the story of what it is to be a biologist observing the unfolding of the intricacies of life itself. Bonner's scientific interests are nearly as varied as the concerns of biology, ranging from animal culture to evolution, from life cycles to the development of slime moulds. And the extraordinary cast of characters he introduces is equally diverse, among them Julian Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane, Leon Trotsky, and Evelyn Waugh. He pursues these interests through the hundred years that gave us the discovery of embryonic induction; the interpretation of evolution in terms of changes in gene frequency in a population; growth in understanding of the biochemistry of the cell; the beginning of molecular genetics; remarkable insights into animal behaviour; the emergence of sociobiology; and the simplification of ecological and evolutionary principles by means of mathematical models. In this paramic view, we see both the sweep of world events and scientific progress and the animating details, the personal observations and experiences, of a career conducted in their midst.
John Tyler Bonner is Professor of Biology, Emeritus, Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including Morphogenesis.