Emil du Bois-Reymond: Neuroscience, Self, and Society in Nineteenth-Century Germany

The MIT Press (2013)
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Abstract

This biography of Emil du Bois-Reymond, the most important forgotten intellectual of the nineteenth century, received an Honorable Mention for History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at the 2013 PROSE Awards, was shortlisted for the 2014 John Pickstone Prize (Britain's most prestigious award for the best scholarly book in the history of science), and was named by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as one of the Best Books of 2014. In his own time (1818–1896) du Bois-Reymond grew famous for his groundbreaking research in neuroscience and his provocative addresses on politics and culture. His discovery of the electrical transmission of nerve signals, his innovations in laboratory instrumentation, and his reductionist methodology all helped lay the foundations of modern neuroscience. In addition to describing the pioneering experiments that earned du Bois-Reymond a seat in the Prussian Academy of Sciences and a professorship at the University of Berlin, this book also recounts du Bois-Reymond’s family origins, private life, public service, and lasting influence. In talks that touched on science, philosophy, history, and literature, du Bois-Reymond introduced Darwin to German students (triggering two days of debate in the Prussian parliament), asked on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War whether France had forfeited its right to exist, and proclaimed the mystery of consciousness, heralding the age of doubt. The first modern biography in any language, "Emil du Bois-Reymond" recovers an important chapter in the history of science, the history of ideas, and the history of Germany.

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Gabriel Finkelstein
University of Colorado Denver

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