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  • Writer's pictureJosette Abruzzini

The Birds & the Bees - Who Knew What and When did they Know it?

Everyone knows that the most anticipated class in elementary schools and middle schools is that once-a-year session on girls’ health or boys’ health. Hushed rumors spread a flurry of excitement through hallways. “Did you hear?” “Mr. Wolff’s class had the film this morning.” “When do you think it’ll be our turn?” The subject gets any of our attention in just about any setting. Even as adults, the specifics of conception and the meaning of life itself can astonish and intrigue us.

Centuries ago, what inquisitive scholars and physicians thought they knew about where babies came from was often incorrect. Yet many approached the subject with youthful vigor and endless curiosity. A lifetime was often not enough time for them to solve even one small part of the mystery. So many wrong turns along the way; mistakes that cost centuries of progress.

What Edward Dolnick does in his newest volume, The Seeds of Life, is tell the story of how a series of curious men performed one experiment after another, over the span of thousands of years, in a quest to learn about reproduction. How are babies made? Where does the energy of life come from? Somehow, eventually, unquestionable truths were discovered.

Science enthusiasts, both lay persons and scientists, will enjoy reading the anecdotes and accounts, the truths and legendary falsehoods, of those early scholars. The many references to my favorite Delftians - Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, the Dutch shopkeeper who discovered microbes and sperm, and Dr. Regnier de Graaf, who led the way to understanding that the egg originated in the female - will help the reader appreciate the contributions of Holland’s Golden Age science pioneers, among others.

The author also offers sensitive and relevant religious considerations that contributed to investigators’ understandings, and brings us into their thinking processes. That has value.

Edward Dolnick presents this broad story in a clear narrative style that all will appreciate. At at times, readers will roll in hilarious laughter! Readers of Seeds of Life will revel in the moments when answers were learned and ‘the cellular event’ was finally witnessed. What a story it is!

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Josette Abruzzini is fascinated with the science pioneers of Holland's Golden Age (late 17th century). That's what led her to read two of Edward Dolnick's books: Clockwork Universe, and, The Seeds of Life.

To read more about Josette's writing projects, visit her website at her author page at

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