Form and Content

Laura N. Wood’s biography Louis Pasteur deals, in reality, with two interrelated subjects. First, it is an outstanding temporal account of the life of Pasteur, arguably the most well known scientist of his day. It is also a study of the methods by which science was conducted during this period.

Wood begins her story with the background of Pasteur’s family. Louis was born in 1822, the third of five children belonging to Jeanne and Jean Joseph Pasteur. Pasteur’s father, retired from the military after the Napoleonic Wars, was a tanner by trade. Devoutly Catholic, the Pasteur children were reared in a household devoid of money, but one in which hard work and education were stressed.

In twenty-one chapters, Wood’s narrative allows the reader to follow Louis from these simple origins. By 1847, Pasteur had begun work on his doctoral theses at the École Normale, the pinnacle of the French educational system. Ironically, as Wood points out, the examiners for his entrance exam considered his chemistry to be merely mediocre. Yet, by the time that Pasteur was graduated from the school, he had pioneered a new field of stereochemistry. His professors would be coming to him for advice.

In 1854, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Lille. This period of his life, lasting some twenty years, was to set the stage for his most famous contributions. Wood describes how Pasteur became immersed in the local...

(The entire section is 434 words.)