Published in the Wall Street Journal, Jun. 2, 2017 4:38 p.m. ET
The Birth of Wisdom
It wasn’t until recently—the late 1800s—that we knew for sure where babies come from. Laura J. Snyder reviews ‘The Seeds of Life’ by Edward Dolnick.
On an autumn night in 1677, a Dutch civil servant named Antoni van Leeuwenhoek rose from his bed immediately after intercourse with his wife. He rushed to his study, lit a candle and examined a drop of his semen with his microscope. In shock he watched as tiny eels darted this way and that.
Leeuwenhoek was the first to realize that these “little animals”—sperm—existed in the semen of healthy men and were a crucial part of reproduction. But it would be almost 200 years before anyone could answer that most fundamental question: How are babies made? Edward Dolnick, former chief science writer of the Boston Globe, recounts the history of the search for an answer in his entertaining book “The Seeds of Life.”