The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (Paperback)

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science By Armand Marie Leroi Cover Image

The Lagoon: How Aristotle Invented Science (Paperback)


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The remarkable but neglected story of Aristotle’s founding role in the scientific study of nature
Both a travelogue and a study of the origins of science, The Lagoon shows how an ancient thinker still has much to teach us today. Aristotle’s philosophy looms large over the history of Western thought, but the subject he most loved was biology. He wrote vast treatises on animals, dissecting them, classifying them, recording how they lived, fed, and bred. He founded a science. It can even be said that he founded science itself.

In this luminous book, acclaimed biologist Armand Marie Leroi recovers Aristotle’s science. He explores Aristotle’s observations, his deep ideas, his inspired guesses—and the things he got wildly wrong. Leroi visits the Aegean island where Aristotle plumbed the secrets of the living world in all its beauty. Modern science still bears the stamp of its founder. The Lagoon reveals that Aristotle was not only the first biologist, but also one of the greatest.
Armand Marie Leroi is a professor of evolutionary developmental biology at Imperial College London. He is also a broadcaster and the author of Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body, which has been translated into nine languages and won the Guardian First Book Award. He lives in London.
Product Details ISBN: 9780143127987
ISBN-10: 0143127985
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication Date: December 8th, 2015
Pages: 512
Language: English
Praise for The Lagoon

“For several years in his middle age, Aristotle lived on the island of Lesbos, where he studied the creatures in an inland sea known as Kolpos Kalloni. It was here, Leroi argues in this vivid travelogue and scientific history, that the philosopher pioneered a method of thinking about the natural world that amounted to the invention of science. Breaking with the speculative theories of his naturalist predecessors, Aristotle insisted on rooting claims about the purposes and causes of living beings in observation. The vast catalogues that resulted from his work are messy and filled with unassimilated data, but, as Leroi, a biologist, demonstrates, their basic methodology has filtered down through the ages.”
—The New Yorker
“Armand Marie Leroi’s reappraisal of [Aristotle], The Lagoon, is one of the most inspired and inspiring I have read . . . Leroi’s ambitious aim is to return Aristotle to the pantheon of biology’s greats, alongside Charles Darwin and Carl Linnaeus. He has achieved it.”
The Lagoon is an intellectual homage—an admiring, deeply researched and considered reconstruction of Aristotle’s thinking about living things . . . marvelous . . . a work as important to a historian and philosopher of science as it is informative to a biologist and entertaining to the general reader. As compelling as Stephen Jay Gould’s best work, it will long outlast most nature writing of recent years.”
—New Scientist
“A fascinating new book . . . Leroi argues that Aristotle developed many of the empirical and analytical methods that still define scientific inquiry . . . . Leroi is a brilliant guide to the history of science. He traces the history of ideas with skill and care, and he avoids the smug certainty of many contemporary science writers.”
—The Daily Beast
“A remarkable recovery of an ancient thinker’s daringly original enterprises—and mind-set.”
—Booklist (Starred Review)
“Leroi calls on his expertise and his experience as a BBC science presenter to explain why Aristotle’s writings on science are still relevant today . . . A wide-ranging, delightful tour de force.”
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“Leroi lovingly rescues the reputation of Aristotle’s alternately meticulous and bizarre studies of animal behavior from the ruins left in the wake of derision during the Scientific Revolution. Leroi brings modern sensibility to, yet evokes an air of timelessness with, his gorgeous descriptions.”
—Publishers Weekly  (Starred Review)
“Leroi clearly adores Greece and he uses his detailed local knowledge to splendid effect, evocatively re-creating the experiences of the peripatetic philosopher . Leroi is absolutely right to say that even those sections of Aristotle’s work we no longer believe to be correct have affected the knowledge that we have today.”
Literary Review
“In this lush, epic and hugely enjoyable book, biologist Armand Marie Leroi explores the idea that it was another ancient Greek giant whose shoulders we may all stand upon. Leroi is a beautiful writer and it’s been too long, a decade, since his last outstanding book.”
“Brilliant. Not just a charismatic book, but one that places Aristotle in a freshly Aegean context. Above all, Leroi shows, science today trawls through reams of data for patterns and explanations, in precisely Aristotle's manner.”
Sunday Times
“Leroi takes us through Aristotle’s work, finding hints of modern thinking everywhere. The Lagoon bubbles with enthusiasm for its subject, making an absolutely gripping read out of what might have seemed the most unlikely material.”
The Times (London)
“Compelling, sometimes contentious, and always thought-provoking. It celebrates what is most admirable in the Aristotelian tradition: its appreciation of what is actually there.”
Financial Times
“How Aristotle nearly beat Darwin to a theory of evolution. Brilliant.”
Sunday Times Must Reads
“Whether Aristotle is exploring the meaning of existence, the structure of the human heart or the souls of cuttlefish, Leroi is an enthralling and irreverent guide to ‘the first scientist’.”
“A look at some of the great Greek’s most startling, yet often overlooked, ideas.”
“Magnificent . . . . This book is powerful, graceful and charming. Leroi’s prose is as blue-white bright as an Aegean sky reflected from a whitewashed wall. . . beautifully designed and deftly illustrated.”
“Leroi says that Aristotle’s writing is a ‘naturalist’s joy’; the same can be said for Mr. Leroi’s . I admire this entertaining, insightful and felicitously written book.”
International New York Times
“Scintillatingly argued.”
James McConnachie, Spectator Books of the Year
“Leroi reconstructs Aristotle’s studies of wildlife at the Kalloni lagoon on Lesbos more than 2,300 years ago. Entertainingly, he builds up the thesis that the great Greek philosopher was the world’s first systematic biologist.”
Financial Times Books of the Year
“In the History of Animals, [Aristotle] speaks of the reproduction of lice, the mating habits of herons, the sexual incontinence of girls, the stomachs of snails, the sensitivity of starfish, the dumbness of the deaf, the flatulence of elephants and the structure of the human heart: his book contains 130,000 words and 9,000 empirical claims’. Leroi’s own uncompromising investigation gives us a flavour of his subject’s indefatigable explorations. Leroi does not upstage Aristotle’s descriptions with modern anatomical illustrations, though his attractively illustrated discussions draw on much scholarship that has been expended on editing and interpreting Aristotle’s ideas about nature. Leroi’s scholarship is impeccable and consistently generous. Only an expert biologist with broad cultural sympathies and a deep feeling for history could have created such a compelling reappraisal of Aristotle’s place in the history of science. What’s in a name, indeed; in marshalling the facts and ideas that support Aristotle’s scientific credentials in exuberant detail, Leroi must be accounted the king.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Armand Marie Leroi opens Aristotle’s classical cabinet of curiosities to discover the genesis of science inside. In elegant, stylish and often witty prose, he probes the near-legendary, almost primeval lagoon, which inspired the ancient Greek’s Historia Animalium and animates it anew with his own incisive observations. From snoring dolphins to divine bees, Leroi shows us how Aristotle invented taxonomy two and a half millennia before Linnaeus. That, in fact, out of poetry and metaphysics, blending the mythic with the mundane, Aristotle foresaw our contemporary dilemmas of definition and description. The Lagoon is a heroic, beautiful work in its own right, an inquiring odyssey into unknown nature and the known world, which science has created out of it.”
—Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan, or The Whale