Pierre-Paul Grassé (November 27, 1895– July 9, 1985) was a French zoologist, author of over 300 publications including the influential 52-volume Traité de Zoologie. He was an expert on termites.
Grassé began his studies in Périgueux where his parents owned a small business. He went on to study medicine at the University of Bordeaux and studied biology in parallel, including the lectures of the entomologist Jean de Feytaud (1881–1973). Mobilized during World War I, he was forced to interrupt his studies for four years. By the end of the war he was a military surgeon.
Grassé continued his studies in Paris, focusing exclusively on science. He abandoned his preparations for the agrégation to accept a position as professor in the École Nationale Supérieure Agronomique de Montpellier (1921), where the department of zoology was led by François Picard (1879–1939). He became the assistant of Octave Duboscq (1868–1943) who oriented the young Grassé toward the study of protozoan parasites. After the departure of Duboscq to Paris, Grassé worked for Eugène Bataillon (1864–1953) and there discovered techniques for experimental embryology.
In 1926, Grassé became vice-director of the École supérieure de sériciculture. He submitted his theses, Contribution à l'étude des flagellés parasites, in 1926, and it was published in the Archives de zoologie expérimentale et générale.
In 1929, Grassé became professor of zoology at the Université de Clermont-Ferrand. He supervised the theses of several students on insects. He conducted his first field research trip in Africa in 1933-1934, and returned there several times (1938–1939, 1945, 1948). During these trips he studied termites, and became one of the great specialists on these insects.
In 1935, he became an Assistant Professor at the Université de Paris where he received the Prix Gadeau de Kerville de la Société entomologique de France for his work on orthoptera and termites. In 1939 he chaired the Société zoologique de France and in 1941 the Société entomologique de France.
After having been briefly mobilized in Tours, in 1944 he succeeded Maurice Caullery as Chair in Zoology and the Evolution of Beings. Grassé was elected a member of the Académie des sciences on November 29, 1948, in the anatomy and zoology sector and presided over the institution in 1967. In 1976 he changed sectors, into the newly created animal and vegetal biology sector.
Grassé received numerous honours and titles during his career: commander of the Légion d'honneur, doctor honoris causa of the universities of Brussels, Basel, Bonn, Ghent, Madrid, Barcelona and São Paulo. He was also a member of several academic societies, including the New York Academy of Sciences and The Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium.
Grassé’s Traité de zoologie required almost forty years of work. They are still essential references in the field for the groups that are treated in their pages.
Ten volumes are dedicated to mammals, nine to insects.
Apart from this treatise, he led two collections published by Masson: the first, entitled Grands problèmes de la biologie, has thirteen volumes and the second is entitled Précis de sciences biologiques. Alongside Andrée Tétry, he composed the two volumes dedicated to zoology in the collection Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, published by Gallimard. He also supervised the edition of the Abrégé de zoologie (two volumes, Masson). So a hardworking and distinguished man who made a great contribution to his field.
But from the point of view of this site, what is most interesting about Grassé is that he also authored many works where he talks of his views on evolution and metaphysics such as Toi, ce petit Dieu (Albin Michel, 1971), L’Évolution du vivant, matériaux pour une nouvelle théorie transformiste (Albin Michel, 1973), La Défaite de l’amour ou le triomphe de Freud (Albin Michel, 1976), Biologie moléculaire, mutagenèse et évolution (Masson, 1978), L’Homme en accusation: de la biologie à la politique (Albin Michel, 1980).
And his views are quite interesting for a scientist. Perhaps the extraordinarily detailed observation needed for the work he did helped him to appreciate just how wonderful is the Great Work.
- 1935: Parasites et parasitisme, Armand Collin (Paris)
- 1971: Toi, ce petit dieu ! essai sur l'histoire naturelle de l'homme, Albin Michel (Paris)
- 1973: L'évolution du vivant, matériaux pour une nouvelle théorie transformiste, Albin Michel (Paris)
- 1976 La Défaite de l’amour ou le triomphe de Freud (Albin Michel, 1976)
- 1978: Biologie moléculaire, mutagenèse et évolution, Masson (Paris)
- 1980: L'Homme en accusation : de la biologie à la politique, Albin Michel (Paris)
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