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The Private Science of Louis Pasteur
Gerald L. Geison

Winner of the 1996 William H. Welch Medal, American Association for the History of Medicine
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1995

Paperback | 2014 | $71.00 | £59.95 | ISBN: 9780691604978
Hardcover | 2016 | $185.00 | £154.95 | ISBN: 9780691633978
418 pp. | 6 x 9 | 27 halftones 26 figs. 6 tables
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In The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, Gerald Geison has written a controversial biography that finally penetrates the secrecy that has surrounded much of this legendary scientist's laboratory work. Geison uses Pasteur's laboratory notebooks, made available only recently, and his published papers to present a rich and full account of some of the most famous episodes in the history of science and their darker sides--for example, Pasteur's rush to develop the rabies vaccine and the human risks his haste entailed. The discrepancies between the public record and the "private science" of Louis Pasteur tell us as much about the man as they do about the highly competitive and political world he learned to master.

Although experimental ingenuity served Pasteur well, he also owed much of his success to the polemical virtuosity and political savvy that won him unprecedented financial support from the French state during the late nineteenth century. But a close look at his greatest achievements raises ethical issues. In the case of Pasteur's widely publicized anthrax vaccine, Geison reveals its initial defects and how Pasteur, in order to avoid embarrassment, secretly incorporated a rival colleague's findings to make his version of the vaccine work. Pasteur's premature decision to apply his rabies treatment to his first animal-bite victims raises even deeper questions and must be understood not only in terms of the ethics of human experimentation and scientific method, but also in light of Pasteur's shift from a biological theory of immunity to a chemical theory--similar to ones he had often disparaged when advanced by his competitors.

Through his vivid reconstruction of the professional rivalries as well as the national adulation that surrounded Pasteur, Geison places him in his wider cultural context. In giving Pasteur the close scrutiny his fame and achievements deserve, Geison's book offers compelling reading for anyone interested in the social and ethical dimensions of science.

Originally published in 1995.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback and hardcover editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.


"Geison's controversial but stunning biography raises many important questions about the nature of science, past and present. . . . [I]t requires us to reevaluate our heroes and consider the complexities of science as it is actually created instead of merely clinging to comforting and heroic myths."--Elizabeth Fee, New England Journal of Medicine

"A fascinating and detailed account of much of Pasteur's life and of French science in the last century."--Lewis Wolpert, The New York Times Book Review

"Geison makes Pasteur in many ways worthier of our admiration than the saintly figure of legend was."--The Economist

". . . a well-documented, evenhanded biography that will be useful for many years to come. . . . a readable, enjoyable biography."--Booklist

"In The Private Science of Louis Pasteur, Gerald L. Geison has explored 100 of Pasteur's laboratory notebooks . . . which record 40 years of scientific activity and which were made available to researchers only about 20 years ago. Mr. Geison specifically disclaims any intention to deny Pasteur's greatness as a scientist, but to illuminate the scientific process, he sets out to expose some serious discrepancies between what Pasteur published and said in public and what is recorded in the notebooks. . . . This book provides a fascinating and detailed account of much of Pasteur's life and of French science in the last century. . . . What this life of Pasteur shows is how complex, hard and imaginative scientific discovery is, and that it requires a variety of skills rarely found in one person."--New York Times Book Review

"In Geison's hands, Pasteur is shown to have been a consummate publicist and showman . . . He was also single minded, secretive and rather selfish. . . . He is, in short, the perfect anti-hero for our anti-heroic age."--W. F. Bynum, Nature

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This book has been translated into:

  • Japanese
  • Finnish

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Hardcover published in 1995

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