Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

On Growth and Form appeared in the summer of 1917, the second of four books D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson produced in a long career as scientist, author, translator, and editor. His only volume on a strictly scientific subject, On Growth and Form was conceived by the author around 1912 and had been promised to Cambridge University Press as a little book to cost no more than two or three shillings. In the course of distilling nearly three decades of observations on the forms of plants and animals, Thompson saw his book grow to more than eight hundred pages of text and illustrations; many delays in its preparation were caused by Thompson’s severe criticism of his own writing as well as by wartime conditions.

At the time of the book’s publication, Thompson’s career had already encompassed diverse scientific studies as well as digressions into mathematics, classical literature, poetry, and philosophy. On Growth and Form was by intention both a scientific work and an evocation of the seemingly boundless universe of organic and inorganic form which had been revealed by modern science. Thompson’s appreciation of poetry and classical literature played a significant part in its writing, and the enormous impression made by the book on its first appearance was based on its style perhaps as much as on its author’s scientific achievements.

By 1922 the first edition of On Growth and Form was sold out, but Thompson...

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On Growth and Form Historical Context

Introduction
The character of life in 1914, while outwardly chaotic, was driven by what Dr. Alan Axelrod, author of The...

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On Growth and Form Literary Style

Allusion
Thompson draws on any number of familiar events, characters, or concepts to illustrate his ideas to make them clearer...

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On Growth and Form Compare and Contrast

1900s: In 1903, the Wright Brothers embark on the first flights ever in recorded history.

Today: ‘‘It’s time...

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On Growth and Form Topics for Further Study

Examine the world of mathematics as it is expressed in the Fibonacci series, the logarithmic spiral, and the golden ratio. How do these...

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On Growth and Form What Do I Read Next?

In Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (1998), Michael J. Behe makes a strong case on a biochemical level...

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On Growth and Form Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Axelrod, Alan, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to 20th Century History, Alpha Books, 1999.

Clark, W. E....

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On Growth and Form Bibliography

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Bonner, John Tyler. Introduction to On Growth and Form, by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, 1961 (revised edition).

Hutchinson, G.E. “In Memoriam: D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson,” in American Scientist. XXXVI (October, 1948), pp. 577-606.

Le Gros Clark, W.E. Medawar, and P.B. Medawar, eds. Essays on Growth and Form Presented to D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, 1945.

Thompson, Ruth D’Arcy. D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson: The Scholar-Naturalist, 1860-1948, 1958.

Whyte, Lancelot Law, ed. Aspects of Form: A Symposium on Form in Nature and Art,...

(The entire section is 80 words.)