Department Celebrates Publication of Dr. Erik Peterson’s The Life Organic

This is a photo of Dr. Peterson's"book cake," a tradition in the department where we have a cake with icing on it that looks like the book cover.

On February 2, the Department of History celebrated the publication of Dr. Erik Peterson’s The Life Organic: The Theoretical Biology Club and the Roots of Epigenetics. Dr. Peterson’s book tells the story of scientists in the late nineteenth nd early twentieth century who pursued a middle road of investigation between mechanists, those who argued that living beings were simply complex machines, and vitalists, who believed that animals and humans possessed a “vital spark,” an ineffable essence that separated living and nonliving things. These researchers formed the Theoretical Biology Club in the 1920s and 1930s, pioneering a “third way” of understanding life that they termed epigenetics.

Photograph of Dr. Peterson poses with his book in hand.Commenting on The Life Organic, Dr. Margaret Peacock noted that Dr. Peterson’s book revealed “the deep causal connections that exist between culture and science” and upended traditional understandings of the way science changes and evolves over time. Dr. Peacock concluded that the book was not only a significant contribution to the field, but one that was beautifully written and accessible to the general public.

Congratulations, Dr. Peterson, on this notable achievement!