Fritz Muller: A Naturalist in Brazil

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9780936015927: Fritz Muller: A Naturalist in Brazil
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Charles Darwin called him 'prince of observers' and counted him among those whose opinions he valued most. Ernst Haeckel acknowledged a debt to him for his own biogenetic law, 'ontogeny recapitulates philogeny.' And at his death in 1897, the obituary writer in Nature questioned 'whether any other naturalist, save Darwin himself, has given the world so large and original a mass of observations of the kind by which natural selection has been most strongly supported.' Yet today, Fritz Muller is largely ignored in books about the great nineteenth-century naturalists. Muller was more than a naturalist. He was an enthusiastic liberal, one reason why he had to leave Germany, which after the failure of the 1848 revolution was ruled by ultra-conservatives. He had a good university education, yet did not hesitate in Brazil to earn his living as a farmer. He published countless natural history observations throughout his life, on insects and other animals, and his later years particularly on plants. His best known discovery is that of Mullerian mimicry, the imitation of the appearance of toxic species by other toxic species.

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About the Author:

David A. West grew up in Beirut nad graduated from Phillips Academy and Cornell University. He joined the Biology Department of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1962 after postdoctoral research at Liverpool University; he retired in 1998. He taught genetics and evolutionary biology and published on industrial melanism, butterfly pupal color and pupation behavior, and mimicry in a Brazilian swallowtail butterfly. This last project introduced him to Fritz Muller's legacy and the natural history of Muller's Brazil.

Review:

David West has given us a superb biography of the German exile in Brazil who played a little recognized role in supplying Darwin with important data for his post-1865 evolutionary writings. Fritz Muller, one of the great naturalists of the last half of the nineteenth century, became one of Darwin's most influential correspondents. West shows Muller as son, student, father, teacher, medical student, emigre, farmer, invertebrate zoologist, botanist, and as a pioneer researcher in plant growth, pollination biology, animal behavior, and mimicry. Fritz Muller now has the recognition he so well deserves. --Duncan M. Porter, Director, The Darwin Correspondence Project

It is time that Fritz Muller, Brazil's greatest naturalist and friend of Charles Darwin, received the proper recognition. Living in the Brazilian countryside far from such intellectual centers as London, Paris, and Leiden, and being an extraordinarily modest person, he received little attention in his lifetime. Yet, through his publications and his correspondence he did much to help establish Darwinism. He was one of the first enthusiastic supporters of natural selection. It is most praiseworthy that Brazil's foremost naturalist is being celebrated in this splendid biography. It is a fascinating story. --Ernst Mayr, Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology Emeritus, Harvard University

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