Joseph Leidy


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The Last Man Who Knew Everything

Leonard Warren

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Contemporaries of the modest and unassuming scientist Joseph Leidy (1823–91) revered him as the supreme consultant in questions relating to human anatomy, paleontology, protozoology, parasitology, anthropology, mineralogy, botany, and numerous other scientific fields. Leidy’s achievements and the breadth of his scientific interests and knowledge were astonishing. He seemed, in short, to be the man who knew everything.

This is the first published biography of the remarkable Joseph Leidy—a leading American scientist of the mid-nineteenth century, the foremost human anatomist of his time, the first truly productive microscopist, the author of numerous groundbreaking scientific papers and books, and a devoted professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College. An unflagging pioneer and an exceptional illustrator, Leidy was the first in America to use the microscope as a tool in forensic medicine. He established the concept of parasitism in America. He was also the father of American protozoology and parasitology, describing for the first time Trichina in the pig, the source of the human disease trichinosis. As the founder of American vertebrate paleontology, he was the first to describe a dinosaur and many other extinct animals in America. Leonard Warren provides a full account of Leidy’s life and accomplishments and sets them in the social and historical context of Philadelphia and the United States in Leidy’s day. Warren also explores the reasons for the puzzling disparity between Leidy’s fame and recognition during his life and virtual anonymity a century after his death.

Leonard Warren, M.D., Ph.D., is Institute Professor at the Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology in Philadelphia and American Cancer Society Research Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania.

"This is a very successful and long overdue biography of the brilliant but little appreciated Joseph Leidy—the prototype for a scientist in a young emerging nation."—Peter Dodson, University of Pennsylvania

“Warren writes a credible history of Leidy and what he came to represent within this larger panorama of American science. . . . He writes an honest and insightful story—one that is well worth reading.”—John S. Haller, Jr., American Historical Review

“This satisfying and very literate biography says more about the early evolution of American science than its subject of a single man would suggest, and it is well worth reading for its thoughtfulness and thoroughness.”—Kevin Padian, BioScience

“The first biography of this remarkable man to be published. Seeking at once to revive Leidy’s extraordinary reputation and to explain its dwindling over the years, Warren presents a balanced and carefully researched account of this preeminent 19th-century American scientist. Leidy was the foremost human anatomist of his time, the first truly productive microscopist and the author of numerous groundbreaking books. “—Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society

"In the first comprehensive biography of Joseph Leidy, Leonard Warren surveys Leidy’s wide-ranging scientific work. . . . Warren has written a splendid biography of a great, but long neglected, American scientist."—Leonard G. Wilson, Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"In this gem of a book, Warren not only rescues Leidy from undeserved oblivion but crafts a lapidary history of 19th-century American science that should be required reading. . . . A tour de force."—Choice

"This well-researched biography of a forgotten scientist also suggests a revealing view of 19th-century American science."—Kirkus Reviews

“This extensive overview eclipses other brief accounts of Leidy’s life, which tend to focus on only one facet of it. A well-written, concise, and enjoyable work; recommended for public and academic libraries and specialized collections in the history of science, natural history, and medicine."—Library Journal

"[A] concise and lucid biography."—Peter Thomas, New Scientist

“This book is well worth reading—especially if you wish to be a posthumously recognized biologist.”—Francis H. Straus, Perspectives in Biology

"Admirable . . . the first biography ever of the onetime president of the Academy of Natural Sciences and professor of anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania and zoology at Swarthmore College."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Considered one of America’s great biologists in his day but now barely remembered outside specialist circles, Philadelphia scientist Joseph Leidy (1823-1891) deserves a better fate; hopefully, Warren’s absorbing biography will rekindle interest in this remarkable polymath…[Leidy’s] generous life, narrated against a panoramic backdrop of the transformation of American science from elitist club to rigorous discipline, illumines how science progresses and reputations are made or lost."—Publishers Weekly

"We would all of us have so loved to have discussed mutual interests with Leidy. The next best thing, and it is indeed very good, is to savour this marvelous and profound biography that has returned Leidy, the naturalist, teacher, American scholar and gentle man, to the land of the living."—Lynn Margulls, Times Higher Education Supplement

Winner of an Athenaeum Literary Award given by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia
ISBN: 9780300073591
Publication Date: October 11, 1998
320 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
10 b/w illus.