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April 18, 2001

GolgiThe Hidden Structure: A Scientific Biography of Camillo Golgi

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorDavid H.MorseMS, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


Not Available


Copyright 2001 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2001American Medical Association


by Paolo Mazzarello, translated and edited by Henry Buchtel and Aldo Badiani, 407 pp, with illus, $90, ISBN 0-19-852444-7, New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2000.

JAMA. 2001;285(15):2017. doi:10.1001/jama.285.15.2017-JBK0418-3-1

Camillo Golgi (1843-1926) was one of the most important neuroscientists of the late 19th century. He developed a staining technique that would darken nerve cells and their processes, the Golgi stain. He observed certain structures within the neuronal cell body that were verified many years later by the electron microscope, today called the Golgi apparatus or the Golgi body. He also described the nerve endings within muscle tissue, the Golgi tendon organ.

This important biography passes over Golgi's personal and family life to describe his scientific studies in the context of their intellectual and political milieu. Golgi's passage to adulthood occurred during the most exciting period in Italian history, the fusion of a conglomeration of dependencies, city-states, and petty kingdoms into a modern nation. Golgi defined himself as a product of positivism; he was convinced that the rational mind could solve human problems using the scientific method. Combining Darwinian theory with the conviction that all biological processes were physical and chemical at their base, Golgi and other neuroscientists hoped to transform biology as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton had transformed cosmology. Golgi, however, was wary of sweeping theories in biology; progress would occur, he thought, through a cumulative series of very small steps.

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