Ovary of Eve

Clara Pinto Correia, Author, Clara Pinto-Correia, Author, C. Pinto-Correia, Author University of Chicago Press $32 (396p) ISBN 978-0-226-66952-6
Modern-day biological marvels like miniature cameras that capture the moment of conception lull us into a false sense of knowledge; the final answer to the question of where we come from is still up for grabs. Scholars of the 17th century, operating in the context of Descartes's mechanistic world view, proposed the explanation of preformation. Unlike epigenesists, who uniformly contended that an undifferentiated egg went through a process of structural elaboration, preformationists were divided into the ""spermists,"" who thought that Adam's sperm contained Russian doll-like homunculi perfectly coiled and ready to spring forth, and ""ovists,"" who supposed the origin was in Eve's eggs. Pinto-Correia, a biology professor in Lisbon who has published poetry and novels as well as nonfiction, has written a wondrous if enigmatic trip through the history of science. In her nonchronological history of the doctrine of preformation, she threads a maze of global myth and religion, covering diverse topics as mnemonics and the work of 13th-century Catalan philosopher Ramon Llull or the magical Golem of Rabbi Jehuad the Hasid. Given the breadth of her learning, Pinto-Correia stays amazingly focused, even when the discussion jumps forward to modern-day misconceptions like the dinosaur eggs in Jurassic Park. Readers accustomed to books organized around brief ""information bytes"" may become impatient with this one. If the epilogue seems outmoded in light of the recent success of cloning by nuclear transfer technology, reading Pinto-Correia is still a delightful intellectual exercise, and her audience will cut across the usual academic borders. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 12/01/1997
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