Joseph Leidy - The Last Man Who Knew Everything

Joseph Leidy - The Last Man Who Knew Everything Nineteenth Century Life STEM Visual Arts Biographies Famous Historical Events

Joseph Leidy was an extraordinary scientist and a good man. He was willing to help all who came to him with questions and was completely uninterested in self-aggrandizement or praise from others.

Although he is virtually unknown today, his body of work was astonishing. We get a glimpse of his abilities and generosity of spirit from someone who knew him. William Berryman Scott and Henry Fairfield Osborn were beginning their paleontology careers at Princeton University when they sought Leidy's help:

We were constantly running to Philadelphia and the Academy to see Leidy's types, to compare our material with that which he had described and named, and to ask his advice and help. And, though we were mere tyros, beginners, utterly insignificant, he was invariably as kind and considerate and thoughtful, and as lavish in the gift of his time, as though he had nothing else to do.... I was constantly coming to see him constantly referring problems to him for his consideration.

Always, invariably I got the help I wanted, and it was in such a contrast with the attitude of mind of many other distinguished men of science of that day. [They].... held you at arm's length and would tell you just as little as they could....He had that sweetness and gentleness of personality that are so attractive when united with greatness. I have known a few great men in my life, and without exception they have been men of extraordinary simplicity, without any airs, or graces.  (Leonard Warren quoting William Berryman Scott in Joseph Leidy: The Last Man Who Knew Everything, at pages 6-7.)

This image depicts the cover of Warren's book.  Thanks to Google Books and the publisher (Yale University Press), significant sections of The Last Man Who Knew Everything are available for online reading.

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy Google Books.


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