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Famous Like Me > Director > H > Julian Huxley

Profile of Julian Huxley on Famous Like Me

Name: Julian Huxley  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 22nd June 1887
Place of Birth: London, England, UK
Profession: Director
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia

Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, FRS (June 22, 1887 – February 14, 1975) was a British biologist, author, humanist and internationalist, known for his popularisations of science in books and lectures. He was the first director of UNESCO and was knighted in 1958.

Huxley was part of a distinguished 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.
Family tree

Huxley was born on June 22, 1887, at the London house of his aunt, the novelist Mary 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 laboritories that his grandfather had compelled the school to build several decades earlier. At Eton he developed an interest in ornithology and in 1905 obtained a schollarship 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 semester 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 at took up the following year.

Before taking up the post at the Rice Institute Huxley spent a year in Germany preparing for the demanding post. 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 experienced 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 left teaching and research to work full time with H.G. and G.P Wells on The Science of Life (see see below).

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 joining the war the 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 as secretary. Huxley used this opportunity to dedicate much of the rest of his life to science popularisation and political issues.

As well as his zoological research Huxley contributed theorectical works to evolutionary biology, and he was one of the many key people in the modern evolutionary synthesis. 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 Konrad Lorenz.

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.


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 which due to malaria remained uninhabited. 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 to set up the World Wildlife Fund.


Like many biologists in the first half of the twentieth century, Huxley was a proponant 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 of the eugenic extremism that arose in the 1930s. 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 on race, which asserted that race is a cultural concept and not a scientific one. In particular the UNESCO statement helped destroy the idea that Jewish people form a distinct racial group - a key plank in Nazi and other ideologies that led to the Holocaust.

In the post war years, following the horrorific 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.

In 1934 Huxley collaborated with Alexander Korda to create the world's first natural history documentary, The Private Life of the Gannet, on the Pembrokeshire coast, for which 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 pannelist 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 panellist on one of the BBC's first quiz shows, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?, in 1955.

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 the first President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Many of Huxley's books address humanist themes.


  • 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)
  • The Science of Life (with H.G. & G.P. Wells - 1931)
  • 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)
  • 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)
  • Evolution: the Modern Synthesis (1942)
  • Evolutionary Ethics (1943)
  • Touchstone for Ethics (1947)
  • Man in the Modern World (1947) eBook
  • Heredity, East and West (1949)
  • Biological Aspects of Cancer (1957)
  • Towards a New Humanism (1957)
  • New Bottles for New Wine (1958)
  • The Humanist Frame (1962) elaborated to Essays of a Humanist (1964)
  • From an Antique Land (1966)
  • The Courtship Habits of the Great Grebe (1968)
  • Memories (2 vol., 1970 and 1974)

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Julian Huxley