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by Frank Rowntree

BIOPRESS 1991 185pp. Illus. 29.95. ISBN 0- 948-73710-7

Because of Leewuenhoek's place in history as one of sciences great names, a plethora of books and papers of varying quality and detail, many containing much guesswork, have been written about him. When I first saw this title I groaned inwardly and said ' oh not another '. The provenance of the book and the enviable track record of its author Brian Ford tempted me to investigate further and my original view was quickly dispelled as on opening the volume it was soon evident that this was not only a major work of scientific scholarship but also a superbly written historical detective story.

Brian Ford's priveleged access to the strong rooms of the Royal Society gave him the opportunity to examine some of Leeuwenhoek's original material sent to the Society some 300 years ago. This included correspondence to which were attached small packets of biological specimens including sections and serial slices. Using a carefully designed programme of microscopical investigation these specimens were subjected to a series of examinations using Leeuwenhoek's own microscope as well as modern methods of optical and electron microscopy.

The methodology of the investigations and the findings are described in detail by Ford, who first sets Leeuwenhoek in a historical perspective, going on to describe the letters and the attached specimens. The various techniques of the investigative microscopy and their findings are illustrated by comparative photographs which form the bulk of the book. The clarity of the illustrations and the detail of the supporting text demonstrate the undoubted accuracy of Leeuwenhoek's own observations and the excellence of the instruments he used. The development of these and descriptions of the known extant instruments form the concluding part of the book.

One envies Brian Ford his priveleged opportunity to carry out this research which was not only an act of scholarship but at the same time an activity which must have been fascinating and fun to undertake. It was also a task of great responsibility which cannot have been undertaken lightly and one in which he and his colleagues succeeded beyond measure. He makes his readers part of the experience by sharing it with us through the clearly presented words and pictures of his book, which will undoubtedly become one of the Great Works of the literature of the history of microscopy.

All Biopress titles are available from BIOPRESS Ltd. The Orchard, Clanage Road, Bristol BS3 2JX, UK at the prices marked plus 5 per volume for postage and packing.

F St D Rowntree

See also Leeuwenhoek Legacy web page.