“A valuable introduction to Fritz Müller, a colorful and important figure in the story of natural history, but someone who has been seriously neglected by historians of science. This volume helps us gain a better understanding not only of Müller’s many contributions but also of the development of Darwin’s ideas about species diversity.”–Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, author of Unifying Biology
“Impeccable research on practically every available facet of Müller’s life. Relevant for both historians of science and scientists alike.”–Adriana Novoa, coauthor of From Man to Ape: Darwinism in Argentina, 1870-1920
Fritz Müller (1821-1897), though not as well known as his colleague Charles Darwin, belongs in the cohort of great nineteenth-century naturalists. In Darwin’s Man in Brazil: The Evolving Science of Fritz Müller, David A. West recovers Müller’s legacy. He describes the close intellectual kinship between Müller and Darwin, detailing a lively correspondence spanning seventeen years, in which the two men often discussed new research topics and exchanged ideas. Darwin frequently praised Müller’s powers of observation and interpretation, counting him among those scientists whose opinions he valued most.
A free thinker who refused to sign the Christian oaths required of teachers in Prussia, Müller emigrated to Brazil in 1852 to become a pioneer farmer researching tropical biology. In the 1860s he reorganized his biological research in order to test Darwin’s theory of evolution. Conducting field studies to answer questions generated from a Darwinian perspective, Müller was unique among naturalists testing Darwin’s theory of natural selection because he investigated an enormous diversity of plants and animals rather than a relatively narrow range of taxa.
Despite the importance and scope of his work, however, Müller is known for relatively few of his discoveries. West remedies this oversight, chronicling the life and work of this remarkable and overlooked man of science.
David A. West (1933-2015) was associate professor emeritus of biological sciences at Virginia Tech and the author of Fritz Müller: A Naturalist in Brazil.