The Roots of Progress

Louis Pasteur: Free Lance of Science

René Dubos

A biography of Louis Pasteur, covering his major achievements and placing them in the context of the origins of microbiology and the germ theory of disease.

I enjoyed this book very much. First, the career of Pasteur is an amazing one, well deserving of a biography. Pasteur demonstrated the role of microbes in fermentation processes, disproved contemporary claims of the spontaneous generation of life, played a major role (along with Robert Koch) in establishing the germ theory of disease, and invented the first vaccines after Edward Jenner, including the vaccine for rabies. Any of these accomplishments alone would probably have earned him a place in the history books; all of them together make him a rare hero in the history of progress.

Second, the book goes beyond biography, placing its subject in the full context of the scientific developments of the age. The first chapter paints a picture of the intellectual atmosphere of the 19th century; later chapters wax philosophical about the nature of scientific accomplishment and creative work.

I found enough great quotes to fill a long Twitter thread. Recommended for anyone interested in the history of progress.

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