Julian Huxley

Julian Huxley books and biography

Julian Huxley

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Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, FRS (June 22, 1887 – February 14, 1975) was an English evolutionary biologist, author, humanist and internationalist, known for his popularisations of science in books and lectures. He was the first director of UNESCO, founding member of the World Wildlife Fund, and was knighted in 1958.

Huxley came from the distinguished Huxley family. His brother was the writer Aldous Huxley, and half-brother a fellow biologist and Nobel laureate, Andrew Huxley; his father was writer and editor Leonard Huxley; and his paternal grandfather was biologist T. H. Huxley, famous as a colleague and supporter of Charles Darwin. His maternal grandfather was the academic Tom Arnold, and great-grandfather Thomas Arnold of Rugby School.


Early life

Thomas Henry and Julian Huxley in 1895.
Thomas Henry and Julian Huxley in 1895.
Family tree
Family tree

Huxley was born on June 22, 1887, at the London house of his aunt, the novelist Mary Augusta Ward, while his father was attending the jubilee celebrations of Queen Victoria. Huxley grew up at the family home in Surrey where he showed an early interest in nature, as he was given lessons by his grandfather. At the age of thirteen Huxley attended Eton College, and continued to develop scientific interests in the school laboratories that his grandfather had persuaded the school to build several decades earlier. At Eton he developed an interest in ornithology and in 1905 obtained a scholarship in Zoology at Balliol College, Oxford.

Academic life

In 1906, after a summer in Germany, Huxley took his place at Oxford, where he developed a particular interest in embryology and protozoa. In the autumn term of his final year, 1908, his mother died from cancer. In 1909 he graduated with first class honours, and was offered the Naples scholarship. He spent a year at the Naples Marine Biological Station where he developed his interest in embryology and development by researching sea squirts and sea urchins. In 1910 he took up a lecturing post at Oxford, but in 1912 was asked by Edgar Odell Lovett to take the chair of Biology at the newly created Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, which he accepted and took up the following year.

Before taking up the post at the Rice Institute, Huxley spent a year in Germany preparing for his demanding new job. Working in a laboratory just months before the outbreak of World War I, Huxley overheard fellow academics comment on a passing aircraft, "it will not be long before those planes are flying over England," cementing Huxley's strong internationalist political views. While in Germany Huxley had a nervous breakdown and returned to England to rest in a nursing home. At the same time his brother Trev, two years junior, also had a breakdown, and hanged himself.

In September 1916 Huxley returned from Texas to assist in the war effort, working in intelligence, first at GCHQ and then in northern Italy. After the war he was offered a fellowship at New College, Oxford, which had lost many staff and students in the war. In 1925 Huxley moved to King's College London, as Professor of Zoology, but in 1927 resigned his chair to work full time with H. G. Wells and his son G. P. Wells on The Science of Life (see below).

Bird watching in childhood gave Huxley his interest in ornithology, and throughout his life he helped devise systems for the surveying and conservation of birds; and wrote several papers on avian ethology. His research interests also included medicine and the then infant field of molecular biology. He was a friend and mentor of the biologist and Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz.

In 1931 Huxley visited the USSR where he admired the results of social and economic planning on a large scale. Returning to the United Kingdom, he became a founding member of the think tank Political and Economic Planning.

In 1935 Huxley was appointed secretary to the Zoological Society of London, and spent much of the next seven years running the society and its zoological gardens, London Zoo and Whipsnade Park, alongside his zoological research. In 1941 Huxley was invited to the United States on a lecturing tour, and generated some controversy after stating that he believed the United States should join World War II a few weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because of the country's joining the war his lecture tour was extended and the council of the Zoological Society, who were uneasy with their secretary, used this as an excuse to remove him from his post. Huxley seized this opportunity to dedicate much of the rest of his life to science popularisation and political issues.

As well as his zoological work Huxley contributed to evolutionary biology: he was one of the key biologists in the modern evolutionary synthesis. This synthesis of genetic and evolutionary ideas produced a consensus known as neo-darwinism which reigned in biology since about 1940, and is still broadly tenable.

Huxley coined the terms "mentifacts", "socifacts" and "artifacts" to describe how cultural traits take on a life of their own, spanning over generations. This idea is related to memetics. Towards the end of his life Huxley played a key role in bringing to the English-speaking public the work of the French Jesuit-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Macdonald-ross 15:23, 7 April 2007 (UTC)


In the 1930s Huxley visited Kenya and other East African countries to see the conservation work, including creation of national parks, which was happening in the few areas that remained uninhabited due to malaria. He was later asked by the British government to survey the West African Commonwealth countries for suitable locations for the creation of universities. On these trips Huxley developed a concern for education and conservation throughout the world, and was therefore involved in the creation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and became the organization's first Director-General in 1946.

Huxley's internationalist and conservation interests also led him, with Victor Stolan, Sir Peter Scott, Max Nicholson and Guy Mountfort, to set up the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature under its former name of the World Wildlife Fund) as an international fundraising group dedicated to the conservation of nature.


Less well known is the fact that Huxley, a Humanist, also presided over the founding Congress of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and served with John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann on the founding advisory board of the First Humanist Society of New York.


Like many biologists in the first half of the twentieth century, Huxley was a proponent of eugenics as a method of bettering society. Huxley wrote two books critical of genetics in the Soviet Union (which he twice visited), which was dominated by Lysenkoism, a pseudoscientific doctrine which states that acquired characteristics can be inherited. Lysenkoism was dangerous because it stopped the artificial selection of crops on Darwinian principles, which eventually led to famine. Huxley feared a similar process of genetic stagnation would occur in the human population without the aid of eugenics, which the Lysenkoists rejected.

While Huxley saw eugenics as important for removing undesirable variants from the human gene pool as a whole, he believed that races were equal, and was an outspoken critic both of the eugenic extremism that arose in the 1930s, and of the perceived wisdom that working classes were eugenically inferior (Kevles 1985). Huxley was a critic of the use of race as a scientific concept, and in response to the rise of fascism in Europe was asked to write We Europeans. The book, on which he collaborated with the ethnologist A. C. Haddon, sociologist Alexander Carr-Saunders and Charles Singer, which amongst other things suggested the word 'race' be replaced with ethnic group. Following the Second World War he was instrumental in producing the UNESCO statement The Race Question [1], which asserted that "A race, from the biological standpoint, may therefore be defined as one of the group of populations constituting the species Homo sapiens" and "Now what has the scientist to say about the groups of mankind which may be recognized at the present time? Human races can be and have been differently classified by different anthropologists, but at the present time most anthropologists agree on classifying the greater part of present-day mankind into three major divisions, as follows: The Mongoloid Division; The Negroid Division; The Caucasoid Division." The UNESCO statement also helped destroy the idea that Jewish people form a distinct racial group when it asserted that "Catholics, Protestants, Moslems and Jews are not races..."

In the post war years, following the horrific results of the abuse of eugenics, Huxley (1957) coined the term "transhumanism" to describe the view that man should better himself through science and technology, possibly including eugenics, but more importantly the improvement of the social environment.

Public life and science popularisation

Huxley discovered the lucrative business of popular science writing after publishing articles in newspapers. In the late 1920s he was introduced to book writing when asked to collaborate on two projects, a textbook of animal biology with his Oxford colleague J. B. S. Haldane, and by H. G. Wells on a definitive nine-volume set of popular science books on biology, The Science of Life. Other notable publications include Essays of a Biologist and Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. This latter book is a thoroughly professional attempt to bring together all the strands of research to explain how evolution may have taken place.

In 1934 Huxley collaborated with the naturalist R. M. Lockley to create for Alexander Korda the world's first natural history documentary, The Private Life of the Gannets. For the film, which was shot with the support of the Royal Navy around the island of Grassholm on the Pembrokeshire coast, they won an Oscar for best documentary.

In later life, he became known to an even wider audience through television and radio appearances. In 1939 the BBC asked him to be a regular panelist on a Home Service general knowledge show, The Brains Trust, in which he and other panelists were asked to discuss questions submitted by listeners. The show was commissioned to keep up war time morale, by preventing the war from "disrupting the normal discussion of interesting ideas". He was a regular panelist on one of the BBC's first quiz shows, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?, in 1955.

In his essay The Crowded World published in Evolutionary Humanism (1964), Huxley was openly critical of Communist and Catholic attitudes to birth control, population control and overpopulation. Based on variable rates of compound interest, Huxley predicted a probable world population of 6 billion by 2000. The United Nations Population Fund marked 12 October 1999 as The Day Of 6 Billion.

Huxley had a close association with the British rationalist and humanist movements. He was an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association from 1927 until his death, and on the formation of the British Humanist Association in 1963 became its first President, to be succeeded by AJ Ayer in 1965. He was also closely involved with the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Many of Huxley's books address humanist themes.


  • The courtship habits of the Great Crested Grebe (1914) [a landmark in ethology]
  • Essays of a Biologist (1923)
  • Animal Biology (with J. B. S. Haldane, 1927)
  • Religion Without Revelation (1927, revised 1957)
  • The Tissue-Culture King (science fiction, 1927)
  • What Dare I Think (1931)
  • The Science of Life (with H. G. & G. P. Wells - 1931)
  • A Scientist Among the Soviets (1932)
  • Scientific Research and Social Needs (1934)
  • Thomas Huxley's Diary of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake (1935)
  • We Europeans (with A. C. Haddon, 1936)
  • Animal Language(1938; reprinted 1964) photographs by Ylla; includes recordings of animal calls
  • The present standing of the theory of sexual selection. In G. R. de Beer (Ed.), Evolution: Essays on aspects of evolutionary biology (pp. 11-42). Oxford: Clarendon Press. (1938)
  • The Living Thoughts of Darwin (1939)
  • The New Systematics (1940) [this multi-author volume, edited by Huxley, is one of the foundation stones of the 'New Synthesis', a unification of evolution, natural selection, Mendelian genetics and population genetics]
  • Evolution: the Modern Synthesis (1942) [this summarises research on all topics relevant to evolution up to the Second World War]
  • Evolutionary Ethics (1943)
  • TVA: Adventure in Planning (1944)
  • Touchstone for Ethics (1947)
  • Man in the Modern World (1947) eBook
  • Heredity, East and West (1949)
  • Soviet Genetics and World Science: Lysenko and the Meaning of Heredity (1949)
  • Evolution in Action (1953)
  • Biological Aspects of Cancer (1957)
  • Towards a New Humanism (1957)
  • New Bottles for New Wine (1958)
  • The Coming New Religion of Humanism (1962)
  • The Humanist Frame (1962) elaborated to Essays of a Humanist (1964) elaborated Evolutionary Humanism
  • From an Antique Land (1966)
  • Memories (2 vol., 1970 and 1974)

Macdonald-ross 15:09, 7 April 2007 (UTC)


  • Eliot Howard, Territory in Bird Life. Collins (1948 edition) - Foreword, with James Fisher

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