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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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“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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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 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
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Labor to read yet yeoman's work to write July 6 2013
By Citizen John - Published on
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Arthur Tansley was ahead of his time and socialized with a wide variety of intellectuals. This biography helps illuminate a corner of history through the life of Tansley. I didn't enjoy it that much though because I didn't feel connected to Tansley or a burning desire to find out what would happen further into the book. Instead I felt that I was reading an academic journal.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must if you're interested in botany or ecology July 1 2013
By Neal C. Reynolds - Published on
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
My five star rating is to be observed solely to those interested in the above areas. It will also have some interest (probably on the four star level) to those who are into philosophy or psychology. Tansley was an academic with interests in all four fields and a generous smattering in the other sciences.

The book is written on an academic level and won't be dull for those who read on that level. (And of course the reverse...general readers may well find this dull and tedious to read)

One of my fantasy lives would be that of a botanist or floraculturist since my parents owned a nursery in California. As a growing child, I practically hated the business, and now as an old man have regrets that I didn't try harder to develop an interest in plants and their culture. For that reason, I really reveled in this book, imagining myself to have lived Arthur Tansley's type of life, even to being a professor at a leading college.

So, I do emphasize that this book is a treasure for those immersed in ecology, botany, or floriculture. If you're not all that interested in such, don't read this and get bored, then give me a negative vote for giving this five stars. I think this is a great book for the right reader.
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
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 interesting, long, and successful life May 24 2013
By W. Jamison - Published on
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.

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