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Rudolf Virchow Doctor Statesman Anthropologist. By Erwin H. Ackerknecht. ix + 304 pp.; 3 illu. University of Wisconsin Press Madison Wis

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623
REVIEWS
fixed “traits” of the adult organism but the dynamic respollses of
the developing body to extgrnal and internal influences. The genotypes which are perpetuated by natural selection in evolution are
those which react most favorably for the survival and reproductioll
of their carriers i n the greatest variety of circumstances t o which
the race is exposed. From this it follows directly that in variable
environments the genotypes yielding a wide adaptive plasticity of
responses will be most favored. It becomes evident that in all human
societies known t o science (and here we have to take the hdings
of the “social scientist ” seriously !) a rigid genetic fixation of cultural
capacities, as envisaged by Darlington, would be adaptively disadvantageous and would be counteracted by natural selection. TO
what extent the mating groups which constitute social classes and
races act as foci of concentration of genetic abilities and disabilities
we do not yet know with assurance. This will depend not only upon
the frequency of intermarriage between the groups but also upon
the degree of fixity of the social structure in time. One thing which
is crystal clear is that the ability to profit by experience and to be
trained to perform different functions as need arises is adaptively
valuable in any human society. “The genetic sequence of civilization”
is quite different from that imagined by Darlington. The social
scient,ist should not “go back” to the Malthns, Gobineau, Galton,
and Darlington. H e should go forward, with the aid and cooperation
of modern geneticists and evolutionists.
I n this reviewer’s opinion, Darlington’s modern version of biological racism stands critical examination no better than its predecessors. But it should be emphasized that the book under review does
present a biological philosophy of history based upon a n original,
and very ingenious, interpretation of the modern biological knowledge.
The most important thing to realize about this book is that its title
is in part a misnomer: the book does contain many biological facts,
admirably explained; but it contains also many prejudices of the author. No distinction is drawn between facts and interpretations ; hence,
the book can be read profitably only by those who can take its contents
with several grains of salt.
THEODOSITJS
DOBZHANSRP
Institute for the Study of Hunzalt Parriation
Columbia University, New Pork
RUDOLF VIRCHOW : DOCTOR, STATESMAN, ANTHROPOLOGIST. By Erwin H. Ackerknecht. ix 304 pp.; 3 illu. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wis. 1953.
+
When the 19th century was still Occidental culture’s latest experience, had there ever been one uglier, yet more uiolently and
624
AMERICAK JOUBNAL O F PHYSICAL -4NTHROPOLOGY
massively fertile, one more swarming with change? It had long been
committed to transmission of its learned tradition via a polyglot
medium -largely, varieties of Indo-European. It was religiously
schismatic, even schizoid. It mobilized a cultural summation peculiar
to itself, called nationalism, in furtherance of its power-institution
called the State, in such a way as to be self-cannibalistic, and toward
other cultures an unabashed pirate. It, abolished slavery while sprouting new crops of slums. It evolved mass armies, ballot boxes, machines,
and scientists. It built not cathedrals but Crystal Palaces ; and turned
artists into protesters against society. It destroyed phlogiston and
“vitalism, ” and synthesized urea and constructed the periodic table.
It discovered the living cell, the atom, the electron ; organic evolution
and man’s place in nature. It transferred power from kings to
capitalists ; taught even beggars to read ; erected monuments to John
Doe I n Uniform; exchanged new culture-heroes for old. It bent the
time-dimension to its use: on the one hand it immobilized human
time-moments on photosensitive plates; on the other, i t induced a
new time-motion by rendering one side of the world instantly reactive to events on the other side, via electronic transmissions.
It was a Promethean age, while the older gods lived on a spell.
Queen Victoria and Rudolf Virchow were born and died within a
couple of years of each other. Virchow was indeed Promethean;
Victoria indeed was not.
But this is a review of a study of Virchow. The comparison is
a p t nevertheless -Doctor Ackerknecht similarly lends perspective
t o his account; that is, by cross-reference. And no one, I believe,
could have presented to us more fittingly the life and work of this
remarkable physician, statesman, anthropologist than the Professor
of the History of Medicine a t the TJniversity of Wisconsin -himself
a physician, anthropologist, and scholar with a historian’s perspective. H e has handled his Titan skillfully, using a warp-and-weft
technique : first comes a biography proper, hardly adorned and austere
(the style, for that matter, is austere throughout), of 40 pages ;
then, more than 100 pages on the work of the physician; over 30
pages on the statesman ; about 140 pages on the anthropologist ; finally,
a brief ‘‘epicrisis. ”
When Virchow was born, such changes as those picked out above
had barely begun; he died in a very different world from the one
he was born in, and he had wrought mightily, within his chosen fields,
to change it. Thus to span, in one’s maturity, a great, Before and
After is a strenuous gift that the fortunes of history hare bestowed
upon but relatively few of the human race, and seemingly only in
recent times. Those of us who have been thus favored are by so much
a new kind of human phenomenon. Virchow was a mature man both
R E V I E IVS
625
before and after Darwin’s Origin of Species; he was born in a cnlture still essentially one of trading-cities with crafts, and farming ;
he died in one committed to the industry of manufacture. Doctor
Ackerknecht has had, I believe, to wrestle with his figure : Virchow’s
life was such a concentrate of achievement that the easiest path for
the biographer would have been the descent into unrelieved eulogy ;
which the author has not clone. Virchow earned-the TTerb is correct -the hatred or distaste of certain physicians, politicians, anthropologists ; he furnished plenty of materials for diatribes. Yet
much of what he so earned was a compliment to him rather than the
reverse. Doctor Ackerknecht is a t pains to maintain a balance. He
would not neglect t o “paint the wart on his subject’s nose.”
Young Virchow ’s Germany was romantic, reactionary, relatively
backward in medicine and scientific matters, stumbling through frustration toward a political self-realization such as some other nations
had achieved in a n earlier and simpler age. Virchow was a constructive rebel.
Early 19th century medicine had behind it a n honorable tradition
as a n a r t not devoid of science. Drugs it had, and the microscope,
and surgical instruments of considerable delicacy. Yet it obviously
could not be in advance of a n as yet non-existent set of scientific
discoveries, nor of a scientific philosophy derived therefrom. Organic
chemistry comes with the 19th century ; the microscope becomes a
really focal instrument only then ; and anesthesia and antisepsis are
innovations. Virchow ’s contributions either to these or because of
these are numerous and versatile enough to daunt any biographer ;
yet Doctor Ackerknecht seems not to have missed a thing of consequence, and to have guided his material with a firm hand. His subject
was a thoroughgoing empiricist, else he could not have made a science
out of tissue pathology; applied the cell-theory of living matter t o
account for neoplasms ; and forced the microorganismic theory of
disease to the critical self-examination that eventually mas to vindicate it. Virchow was both innovator and devil’s advocate -in either
case, polemically.
The social scientist cannot but be interested in Virchow’s social
perspective, in medicine first, and by extension later on, in anthropology. He got himself into deep and repeated trouble by demonstrating that epidemics were results of social abominations which
government properly could and should eliminate. The bureaucrats
did not, like i t ; but Virchow had shrewdly found himself aligned
with the Zeitgeist. The doctor who was able to slice into government
failures in social vision and responsibility and eventually to tilt
against Bismarck, had been the young man who fought behind the
barricades in 1848. That road led into the Reichstag and psychic
626
AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHIPSlCAL ANTHROPOLOGY
barricades, in their turn, against him. We cannot say the years were
wasted, though his objectives and his opposition failed: the Hohenzollerns and the Junkers were alrady headed for 1914. Doctor Ackerknecht identifies the reasons for Virchow’s failures here (p. 189).
By 1860, the doctor’s great, deeds were practically over ; after that,
aggregate man invited the anthropologist. We know him aa the instigator and director of that great demographic survey of German
schoolchildren which substituted racial facts for romantic fictions
anent the provenience of the German people. I think it is not uncommonly believed that Virchow opposed Darwinism and refused to
allow to Neanderthal man any more status than that of a pathological
grotesque. On the contrary, as the author points out carefully, Virchow was very sympathetic toward evolutionary theory ; but stickler
that he was for facts and more facts, he insisted that favorable entertainment was not the same as uncritical protagonism: he was not
a n Ernst Haeclrel. And fossil finds, during Virchow’s life, were
indeed rare. He was appropriately intrigued by the discovery of
Java man, a few years before he died; but it should have come much
earlier in his life. It is true that Virchow advanced the case of human
evolution not a whit, and his prestige carried not just a cautionary
but a negative weight that here was misplaced. ( H e succeeded in
persuading the discoverer of Java man that i t was but a giant gibbon !)
Well-known also is his friendship and support of Schliemann, who
uncovered Homeric Troy. Virchow ’s interest expanded to include
the antiquities of thc Germans and the neighboring Slavs. He was
aware that his own, remote ethnic origins lay back among the latter ;
in themselves a deterrant to any ethnocentric chauvinism toward
things Germanic.
H e was one of the founders of German anthropology, while his
correspondence was international. Yet his enduring accomplishments
lie in medicine rather than in anthropology. As Doctor Ackerknecht
says-it was the maturity of medicine as a body, and the inchoate
character of anthropology, that favored him in the one and handicapped him in the other.
The imperiousness of convention requires that a review register
something adverse against a n author’s effort, lest praise be unrelieved.
The layman will find the extensive lapse into medical jargon somewhat hard to take. I n extenuation, let me assure him the cold comfort
that it might have been much worse, and I hope he can “take it.”
The style is lucid though hardly a model of literary excellence. The
speleological reader who enjoys the labyrinths of character-study
rather than what a man a t last leaves behind him, may as well be
warned away. But it is the latter interest, not the former. which
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REVIEWS
Doctor Ackerknecht has been pursuing.
beholden to him.
And we are very much
EARLW. C o r n
Hamilton College
MAN’S ANCESTRY. By NT.C. Osman Hill. William Heinemann,
Medical Boolrs Ltd., London. 1954. 194 pp. 21/-sh.
The book gives a short account of human phylogeny, stressing, of
course, the primate stage about which we know more than about the
preceding stages i n any event. It starts out with a short consideration of the evidence for evolution, then goes over t o the evolutionary
horizons of human phylogeny and the evolutionary advance within
the chordate phylum. Chapter I V is entitled “Hou7 animals find
their way about.” Then follows the emergence of the primates, the
rise of the anthropoids, fossil men, and the stage from palaeolithic
to the present. A short chapter on some general problems, such as
the exact place a t which man branched off and the reasons for the
growth of the body leads to the close.
This survey does not do justice to the content, but should help t o
circumscribe the scope of the book. The text is well written without,
being scintillating o r overly brilliant. Why figure 14 has to be repeated as figure 26 is not quite clear. It is a drawing of Volvox
globator, hardly important enough in a book on physical anthropology to be brought twice in fairly rapid succession. The book is
up t o date. I n suitable appendices the question of the Piltdown skull
and the evidence from South Africa are discussed and evaluated.
Being a neurologist, the reviewer was primarily interested in what
the author had to say about the growth of the brain. Let it be said
a t the outset t.hat the author has something to say about the brain
and its growth, in contrast to many older accounts which limit themselves too exclusively to a discussion of the skeletal parts. But the
details are in places misleading. I n the short chapter on how animals
find their way about, there is a diagram of a reflex arc which in the
form given is wrong. It involres but two neurons. Such arcs exist,
but they go from a muscle spindle to the muscle, never from the skin
as given in the diagram. Moreover, when it is said that the two
neuron reflex arc is the primitive condition, and the intercalation of
further neurons is the higher development, t.his. too, is to be taken
with a grain of salt. We actually know very little about the question,
but what we know would suggest that the two neuron reflex arc is
a high stage of development, and that the mass reflexes brought about
by a greater number of intercalated neurons is the original condition.
This a t least holds true for the spinal cord. A different kind of prin-
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