Ernst Mayr on Non-scientific Interests
  Ernst Mayr     Biography    
Recorded: 31 Mar 2002

I’m a little bit …like Darwin. Darwin, in his autobiography, regrets that his interest in poetry and in music and in all these finer cultural endeavors was fading with age, and he was more and more concentrating on his research and all that. I find the same with myself. I have a wonderful collections of records, for instance. And I thought I would everyday play myself at least one record and sometimes ten days goes by and I haven’t played a single record and obviously hadn’t missed it. That’s the part that I am distressed about.

Now, I have quite a big library of non-scientific books, they’re all in my country place in New Hampshire. I have a few of them on the shelf here.

I used to be very much more interested in paintings. I don’t paint myself. For instance, the other day I went to this special exhibit of Stelovs (??) after impressionists. I have a good visual memory, for instance, and I can go to a picture gallery in which I know I’ve been in before and go through the section of French impressionists and say, “Oh, that’s a Renoir, that’s a Monet, that’s a Cézanne, that’s a this and that.” But I don’t know. It doesn’t touch really my heart. I’m a good observer and so it just tests my ability to observe and that’s what makes me proud of something like that.

What other interests do I have? I hate anything having to do with the last two wars so I don’t have anything to do with that. My family was rather badly treated by the Nazis, so I don’t want to have anything to do with the Nazis and their history. I’m not Jewish but my younger brother for instance immediately lost his job when the Nazis came to power because he refused to join the party and so forth.

What other interests? I love to walk. I know all the flowers. Typical naturalist. I still go bird watching and so forth.

Of all the writing, I think the thing that interests me most are biographies.

Ernst Mayr has been universally acknowledged as the leading evolutionary biologist of the twentieth century. He earned his Ph.D. in ornithology at the age of 21 from the University of Berlin in 1926. During his tenure at the Berlin Museum, from 1926 to 1930, Mayr led ornithological expeditions to Dutch New Guinea and German Mandated New Guinea. In 1931, he was hired by the American Museum of Natural History, Department of Ornithology. During his 20-year AMNH tenure, Dr. Mayr described 26 new bird species and 410 subspecies, more than any other living avian systematist.

In 1953, Mayr became Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and served as Director of the Museum (1961-1970). He has published hundreds of papers and eight books, including Systematics and the Origin of Species (1942), which became a landmark of evolutionary biology.

Mayr has been honored with more than 25 major scientific awards and honors and many honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science (1970), the Balzan Prize in Biology (1983) and the Crafoord Prize of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (1999) with John Maynard Smith and George C. Williams "for their fundamental contributions to the conceptual development of evolutionary biology."

In 1995, Harvard’s Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology was rededicated as the Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. Mayr has been a longtime friend and mentor to Jim Watson.