I have completed and submitted the manuscript now for my revision of Species: A history of the idea, now renamed Species: the evolution of the idea. I am publishing it with CRC Press, and it is due out next year.
In addition to updating and revising the historical sections of the book, I have added a philosophy of species section, discussing the idea of species as kinds, classes, individuals or, as I argue, phenomena in need of explanation individually. This has increased the book to around 180,000 words with bibliography. I received a criticism from a well-known philosopher for it being so long. He argued that shorter books make for better communication, and there is a sense in which this is true, but I was as concise as the material permitted, and it raised a question in my mind: are we too lazy now to read?
In the period I most adore, the nineteenth century, books were long. Darwin’s Origin was around 154,000 words, and that was an “abstract” of a much larger book. A reviewer for the publisher insisted Darwin drop the evidence and just make the argument (and also add more about pigeons!). Darwin did neither. Of course I am not comparing my book with his, but reading was expected of readers in that era, and for some time after. In many ways, it is the American influence on publishing that makes short word counts a virtue. It is a tendency to popularization that makes shorter works better. Consider Hume’s Treatise, for example: it runs to 225,000 words or so. Yes, the Essay is much shorter (around 56,000 words), but prolixity is not always a vice. Both works have their place.
One thing I have done is to quote copiously from original sources, including modern sources, as the literature is disparate and widely distributed, and one of my goals was to make the material available for readers so they didn’t have to go hunting for the sources. Even so, I have been very sparing; many views are simply mentioned. It is not easy to cover such a vast amount of material. Whether I did a good job remains to be seen.
Maybe I should do a short book on species. They are all the rage. However, Frank Zachos’ book and Matt Slater’s book do that very well (from a professional biologist and philosopher’s perspectives, respectively) so I don’t see what would be gained.
I also did an appendix listing all the species-related conceptions and replacement concepts I know of. Since this will be available electronically, that chapter is a stand alone reference point for readers. As well, I did another appendix listing the ranks within post-Linnean taxonomy, with notes about when the major ranks were defined.
I hope this is a useful book. I expect to hear what people think fairly quickly…
Slater, Matthew H. 2016. Are species real? An essay on the metaphysics of species. Basingstoke, New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Zachos, Frank E. 2016. Species concepts in biology: Historical development, theoretical foundations and practical relevance. Switzerland: Springer.