"Treasure Your Exceptions" 

The Science and Life of William Bateson


William Bateson (1861-1926) Photograph from Alan Cock's copy of the Bateson materials, now in the Archives of Queen's University, Canada

Alan G. Cock & Donald R. Forsdyke


Published by Springer (September 2008) 


William Bateson brought the work of Mendel (and much more) to the attention of the English-speaking world. He commanded the biological sciences in the decades after Darwin's death in 1882. To understand these years we must first understand Bateson. Through examination of the life of a major contributor to the turn-of-the-century revolution in biology, Cock and Forsdyke reconcile the genocentrism of George Williams and Richard Dawkins with the hierarchical thinking of Richard Goldschmidt and Stephen Jay Gould. The arguments of Bateson against Darwin are only now, a century later, gaining recognition. Evolutionists can at last present a unified front to their creationist opponents.  

    If this is not enough to whet your appetite, try this. In a nutshell, the book is about what we, in modern terms, would call a "colossal intelligence failure." Mendel handed it to us "on a plate" in 1865, when Bateson was only 4. It took 35 years to "join the dots" with Bateson a primary joiner. What on earth were the Darwinians doing in the interim! Shrugged off by most 20th century scientists as a freak "blip" in what was really an orderly advance, the "take home message" is that the Mendel episode was but one of a succession of such "blips." Thus, a multiplicity of post-Mendelian "Mendels" emerge as the story of Bateson's life unfolds.


Prologue   XI-XXV  
Part 1  Genesis of a Geneticist   1
1 A Cambridge Childhood 3
2 From Virginia to the Aral Sea  17
3 Galton    49
4 Variation 75
5 Romanes 111
6 Reorientation and Controversy 147
7 What Life May be 173
Part II  Mendelism 195
8 Rediscovery 197
9 Mendel's Bulldog  221
10 Bateson's Bulldog  265
11 On Course 295
12 Darwin Centenary 312
13 Chromosomes 339
Part III  The Innes Years 379
14 Passages  381
15 Eugenics 419
16 War 439
17 My Respectful Homage 469
18 Limits Undetermined 495
Part IV Politics 519
19 Butler 521
20 Pilgrimages  559
21 Kammerer 567
22 Science and Chauvinism 585
23 Degrees for Women 601
Part V  Eclipse 621
24 Bashing  623
25 Epilogue 643
Appendix 667
Publications of William Bateson   673

References and Notes

Acknowledgements 711
Index 713 -745

ISBN: 978-0-387-75687-5      45 illustrations       Approx. $59.00    44.95

Read the Reviews

Peter Harper's Review in Human Genetics (2009) 125, 233-234

Particularly welcome in helping to fill a significant gap in the history of genetics. ... a major undertaking for which both geneticists and historians should be grateful. ... The book puts the record straight and one is left with a feeling of admiration for Bateson as both a scientist and a man.

Michael J. Wade's Review in Evolution (2009) 63, 2768-2770

I found it most interesting to read Bateson's views on the reasons for the decades' long neglect of Mendel's foundational work. The authors' detailed discussion of science and correspondence from this period helped me better understand that the rediscovery of Mendel was not the smooth, inevitable, and uncontested process of enlightenment which it sometimes seems from textbook accounts. ... Overall, I strongly recommend this book for its information on an important central figure and for its bringing to life the several controversies at the origins of Genetics. It greatly illuminates the conceptual foundations of evolutionary genetics.

Elof Axel Carlson's Review in Quarterly Review of Biology (2009) 84, 398-399

Reading a massive biography with so much original citation in each chapter creates a feeling of intimacy. I felt as if Bateson was a colleague or even a family member as I heard his voice through his correspondence. This volume will be of enormous benefit to historians of science who like to follow how ideas are born or die and why participants of different sides of each controversy hold such rigid views of their own work and saw little merit in their competitor's research. They will also see how science was supported, developed, and promoted in the years 1880-1920, the major years covered as Bateson shifted from childhood into his career.

Joel S. Schwartz's Review in Choice 46 (7) March 2009

In Treasure Your Exceptions, Forsdyke (Queens Univ., Canada) completes the unfinished work of Cock (deceased; formerly, Cambridge Univ., UK). Forsdyke speculates that Cock's interest in Bateson resulted from Cock and Bateson's "common interest in fowl genetics." Both authors - "productive scientists" rather than historians of science - provide fresh insight into Bateson's rich life, aided by their access to Bateson's papers. This work includes key events in Bateson's career and is strengthened by discussion of the rediscovery of Mendelian principles by early 20th-century geneticists. Its basic premise is that Bateson was not merely one of the founders of genetics, but played a pivotal role in the development of evolutionary biology by serving as the link between Victorian naturalists and early 20th-century biologists. To buttress this argument, Forsdyke seeks to link Bateson with animal physiologist and behaviorist George John Romanes - where there was little connection - suggesting that Romanes thought Darwin placed too much emphasis on natural selection. Actually, both men shared similar views, while Bateson's ideas were shaped by the revolution in 20th-century biology. Nonetheless, this interesting work will appeal to biologists and historians of science. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate through professional collections.

Amitabh Joshi's Review in Journal of Genetics (2010) 89, 555-557

There is much in this book that I was not aware of, despite a formal training in genetics and a strong amateur interest in the history of biology. For example, I was not aware that it was Bateson who first suggested that sex determination could be 'Mendelian' with one sex being homozygous and the other heterozygous. I had also not known of Bateson's major early emphasis on epistasis in determining phenotypes. ... Apart from the specifics of Bateson's life and science, the book is also informative about other figures, not too well known today, and their often very prescient thoughts. Particularly notable in this regard are the discussions of the work of Edmund Catchpool and George Romanes on the importance of reproductive isolation as one of the 'selective' mechanisms required for speciation, and of Samuel Butler on 'heredity as information.' It is certainly a book that any serious student of either genetics or evolution would greatly benefit from reading."


Return to: HomePage   (Click Here)

Go to: Evolution Page  (Click Here)

Go to: Bioinformatics Page  (Click Here)

Go to: "Treasure Your Exceptions" Corrections Page  (Click Here)

Go to: Bateson Web-Pages (Click Here)

This page was established in October 2007 and was last edited 21 Jul 2013 by D. R. Forsdyke. 

The above photograph of Bateson may be found in the three main archives of the Bateson papers: 

1. Originals in the Cambridge University Library. 

2. Copy at the John Innes Centre. 

3. Alan Cock's personal copy now in the Queen's University Archives.