This classic introduction, first published in 1879, both isolates a single creature in order to instruct the reader in the general principles of morphology, physiology, and the behavior of a whole animal and relates that animal to other species. And the book does something more: as MIT biologist Stephen A. Raymond writes in a foreword to this reissue, "Ostensibly the book deals with one animal. Yet the actual subject is the interaction of that animal (and hence by extension and animal—or plant or machine) and a disciplined observer. Although Huxley felt that his monograph was very far from a complete description of the crayfish, he nevertheless hoped to show how such a description of one animal could provide the 'foundation for the whole of biological science.' I believe bacterial geneticists have the same motivation. However, their discussion of development, comparative morphology, and evolution must necessarily be further from man than Huxley's. By making careful observations and by tying them together, Huxley teaches the nature of zoology."
The Crayfish provides four unique bounties, any one of which would justify its being given a new life nearly 100 years after it first appeared. To begin with, it remains a fine source of information and observations on decapod crustacea. Second, its emphasis and orientation reflect its era and give us a free history lesson in the attitudes of Victorian England. Third, one tends to distort the qualities of scientific predecessors, casting them by whimsy as giants or pygmies. It is easy to attribute the totality of a concept to a latter age during which a preexisting notion was simply supported by new evidence. Huxley's book reminds one of the conceptual antecedents of contemporary work. Fourth, Huxley emphasizes a technique that current biology often assumes as a talent without singling it out for conscious practice and development: that of disciplined observing.
As an added benefit, the style is witty, rich with interesting diversions, and delightful. As Dr. Raymond notes, "Huxley was comprehensive, evincing a span of interest and expertise which is admirably broad. He comments on geography, geology, natural philosophy, architecture, the nature of scientific inquiry, etymology, taxonomy, and chemistry." But the book is not diverted from its principal intent, which is to introduce the reader to zoology, a general study that impinges on most of the specialties in modern biology from viral genetics to neurophysiology. It is true that Huxley deals with scientific and philosophical problems (such as the mind-body problem) that are considerably broader than his title suggests. Still, the title is apt, for the crayfish is a lively, fascinating creature ideally suited to Huxley's inductive comments on the nature of life and the scope of scientific enterprise.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description The MIT Press, 1977. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0262580349