Daniel P Todes
Oxford University Press, £25.00
While there have been a number of biographies written about Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), including in 1949 by Pavlov's pupil and assistant, B P Babkin, and in the 1970s by Elizabeth and Martin Sherwood, it is time for a fresh look at one of the first Nobel Laureates in the medical sciences.
This volume differs from previous biographies in its depth of research and scholarliness. Daniel Todes, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, is the author of two other books on Pavlov and has spent more than 20 years accumulating material, including some never published, for what may prove to be the definitive biography of Ivan Pavlov.
It is also a gripping read. In the first sentence, you discover that, contrary to legend, Pavlov never trained a dog to salivate to the sound of a bell. In the final sentence, Todes makes the point that, as in Pavlov's day, science offers "powerful and illuminating insights into our behaviours and moods".
Forty-nine chapters are supported by an epilogue, a glossary ('Pavlov's lexicon'), more than 70 pages of notes and an extensive bibliography that lists all the archives consulted. There are 47 black and white illustrations, including photographs of Pavlov and his family, as well as charts and diagrams of his, and related, work.
Well written, thoroughly researched and extremely readable, the cost represents good value for money and Ivan Pavlov: A Russian Life in Science deserves a place on all good library shelves. It is likely to be enjoyed by anyone interested in the behavioural sciences and the physiological sciences linked to digestion, and also by those with an interest in the history of science and Russian history.