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Shaping Ecology: The Life of Arthur Tansley [Paperback]

Peter G. Ayres

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Book Description

May 21 2012 0470671548 978-0470671542
Sir Arthur Tansley was the leading figure in ecology for the first half of the 20th century, founding the field, and forming its first professional societies. He was the first President of the British Ecological Society and the first chair of the Field Studies Council. His work as a botanist is considered seminal and he is recognized as one of the giants of ecology throughout the world.

Ecology underpins the principles and practices of modern conservation and the maintenance of biodiversity. It explains the causes of, and offers solutions to, problems of climate change. Yet ecology is a young science, barely 100 years old. Its origins lie in phytogeography, the naming and mapping of plants.

Shaping Ecology is a book about a multi-faceted man whose friends included Bertrand Russell, Marie Stopes, Julian Huxley, GM Trevelyan, and Solly Zuckerman. Historical context is provided by Tansley's family for his parents moved in the Fabian-socialist world of John Ruskin and Octavia Hill, both instrumental in the foundation of the National Trust. While Britain was relatively slow to protect its green spaces and wildlife, it did establish in 1913 the first professional Ecological Society in the world. Tansley was its President. Organising the British Vegetation Committee and initiating a series of International Phytogeographic Excursions, he changed phytogeography into ecology.


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Review

“In conclusion, this book is well written and it is easy to locate specific information on Tansley and the broader contexts of his work throughout the book.”  (The British Journal for the History of Science, 1 June 2014)

“Ayres’s book shows how one man was able to create whole climates of opinion as well as a new discipline; it is warmly recommended.”  (Archives of Natural history, 1 August 2013)

“Despite hints of Tansley’s personal complexity, we are left with an appreciation of his remarkable professional legacy that continues to foster scientific alliances and conservation of nature. ”  (Ecology, 1 April 2013)

“To all of us who cherish such wild places in modern Britain, as this book reveals, we owe Tansley a great debt.”  (The Biologist, 1 June 2013)

“A valuable acquisition for institutions with programs in ecology, botany, environmental sciences, or history of science.  Summing Up: Highly recommended.  Academic and general readers, all levels.”  (Choice, 1 March 2013)

“It is directed at ecologists, but it is a straightforward biography and, as such, deserves to be widely read.”  (Journal of Insect Conservervation, 8 July 2012)

 

From the Back Cover

Arthur Tansley turned the old plant geography into the new science of ecology, teaching botanists to look at vegetation, rather than individual plant species. He recognised that vegetation is continually changing and how, especially in the British islands, it is influenced by man's activities. Safeguarding wild places from the continuing pressures of agriculture and industry would demand, he argued, not sterile preservation but active conservation within nature reserves, places where the principles of ecology could be applied to the scientific management of plants and animals.

Author of a best-selling book on psychology, and a respected philosopher, Tansley was no mere academic. He used his authority and political skills to achieve practical results, such as the foundation of the Nature Conservancy, of which he was the first Chairman. In the ecological principles he laid out, most notably the ecosystem, he left an invaluable legacy for ecologists and conservationists worldwide.


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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice, short biography that begins well but ends in a mass of committee work June 16 2013
By Arthur Digbee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Arthur Tansley was one of the founders of British ecology, popularly but erroneously attributed with coining the word "ecosystem." Peter Ayres has given him a nice little biography here. Ayres is himself a plant scientist who is an academic nephew or grandson of Tansley. Surprisingly, Ayres not to emphasize Tansley's biology as much as his mentoring and institution building, including creation of The Nature Conservancy.

I found this to be a lively and interesting biography as Tansley rose to the highest peaks of British ecology. At that point, unfortunately, the story began to drag. Tansley was involved in too many projects, with too many people. The story involves a lot of committees, conferences, resolutions, and other administrative tasks. It was all important, and central to Tansley's life, but it made me glad to get to the end. Alas.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hard book to like May 23 2013
By Moheroy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This is a much needed biography of one of the chief architects, and arguably the founder, of modern ecology, it is also incredibly tedious, annoying, and barely readable.

Basically a sponsored volume, it is co published by the British Ecological Society and the academic journal, the New Phytologist, it is almost a self parody of the genre. There is much quoting of mission statements, detailed chronolgies of the founding of organizations, and endless discussions of the formation and reports of endless, mostly forgotten study committees, and it quotes formal encomiums and almost utterly useless verbiage of of official statements and after dinner speeches at length. It proclaims itself a critical biography, while finding its subjects chief faults to be prickliness and lack of familiarity with failure. If you have ever read an official departmental history or the book a century old corporation issues about its founding, you will know what reading this book is like.

Tansley is a fascinating figure, a product of the incredible efflorescence of Victorian self improvement, his was father a self educated, if very wealthy tradesman, and associate of both John Lubbock and Ruskin, and he himself was a schoolfriend of Bertrand Russell. His wife's wedding party was a constellation in itself. Not only did he coordinate the creation of an entire scientific discipline, ecology, he also was one of the very first British members of the International Psychoanalytic Association, and was analyzed, unsuccessfully, by Freud himself. He coined the term "ecosystem" and much of the modern language of ecology. In other words he was a fascinating man, and the subject of a terribly dull book.

As an example, the author, Peter Ayres, repeatedly refers to an extramarital affair, even quoting a portion of Taney's diary about his agony in ending it, and yet never actually discusses it, much later in a tedious and repetitious section on domestic routines it is casually mentioned that he announced the existence of this affair to his entire family during dinner, and that this was traumatic. That is the sum total of the discussion.

As to the scientific portions, they are written on a middling level, as is typical of much of environmental history. Actual knowledge of the topic by the reader is much rewarded, but it must appear quite opaque to the uninitiated, but even these sections are rather brief, and a times seem utterly swamped in endless lists of names, all of them actually important in their fields, but still... And as referred to earlier, endless discussions of bureaucratic maneuvers, the creation of societies, and wangling over jobs. All of this should be horrifyingly familiar to anyone in academia or the administrative ends of non profits.

So who is this book actually for. Who could possibly want to read every turgid word? Other than connoisseurs of organizational minutiae, of course. Well it will be very useful to those interested in the British side of the origin of Ecology as a discipline, and to environmental historians, and those curious about the personnel involved in founding nature reserves in the UK. It also may have some interest for those dedicated experts on Freudiana have run across Tansley in their reading, and wonder who exactly he was.

I give it four stars for these parties since it will serve their needs, for anyone else, avoid it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars interesting, long, and successful life May 24 2013
By W. Jamison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
This appears to be the first book on Arthur Tansley. While there is a wealth of publications by him, and a great deal of material associated with him, it is rather surprising that it took this long for someone to do a biography on such a significant scientist. We may be either surprised how late ecology became an acknowledged science, or how difficult it was for men to promote the general welfare of nature when it seems so commonsensical today (I hope). But this history shows it took a unique individual and much effort to develop this common sense and rescue nature from oblivion.
I found it also interesting that he was a friend of Bertrand Russell in school. It is a shame they broke up over the war for so long but considering their dispositions it makes sense. It always amazes me how small the company was that was the British Academic community during this time. It seems everyone that turned out to be famous was connected in some way with everyone else. Tansley was a "Queer mixture of an idealist and a materialist" - I suppose that would be just right for a botanist. Funny way to get to know the Chicks right after the school merged. Sorry, but that clearly seems to have been set up to be interesting. The history of the man dovetails with the history of the increased development of botany as a science and the close connection it had with the development of preserving nature and ecology. This is a very interesting biography that describes an interesting, long, and successful life.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not for the general reader June 2 2013
By Cecil Bothwell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Peter Ayres scholarly biography of one of the founding scientists of modern ecology is well researched and thorough, but is too dry and academic for a general reader.

That said, I'm sure that for those with a burning interest in the lives and chains of influence among professors and researchers, this tale of a dedicated, philosophic and far-sighted man will have some appeal. Heavily footnoted, and related in careful detail, the prose style is that of a peer-reviewed professional journal. This book may be of interest to members of the Nature Conservancy, since Arthur Tansley was a founding member and the first president, and to policy wonks concerned with how science might be translated into conservation law.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography of this important figure in Ecology May 24 2013
By Edward Alexander Gerster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Before reading this book, I only knew Arthur Tansley, and his book "Britain's Green Mantle," as a footnote in my studies of ecology. Now I have a newborn respect and fascination for his work which was so important in shaping the direction of ecological explorations. This biography is extremely well written and researched, engages the reader and provides a fascinating tale of Tansley within the context of the time and community of academic peers. If you have a love of the natural world, you will find plenty here to learn and contemplate. Highly Recommended.

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