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The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earthby Richard Conniff
Synopses & Reviews
Beginning with Linnaeus, a colorful band of explorers made it their mission to travel to the most perilous corners of the planet and bring back astonishing new life forms. They attracted followers ranging from Thomas Jefferson, who laid out mastodon bones on the White House floor, to twentieth-century doctors who used their knowledge of new species to conquer epidemic diseases. Acclaimed science writer Richard Conniff brings these daredevil "species seekers" to vivid life. Alongside their globe-spanning tales of adventure, he recounts some of the most dramatic shifts in the history of human thought. At the start, everyone accepted that the Earth had been created for our benefit. We weren't sure where vegetable ended and animal began, we couldn't classify species, and we didn't understand the causes of disease. But all that changed as the species seekers introduced us to the pantheon of life on Earth--and our place within it.
"Until about 1834, the word 'scientist' didn't exist. According to naturalist Conniff (Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time), it was likely at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science) where a member, following the model of 'artist' and 'atheist,' coined a new term--'scientist' reflecting the transition of the nascent study of plants and animals from self-educated hobbyists to a new breed of professional. The author blows the fusty dust of centuries off an exhaustive bibliography of almost 300 books, many published in the 1800s. Conniff tells a fresh story that begins with Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus's creation of a species classification system in 1735, through Darwin's development of the theory of evolution--and of how, then as now, it was a challenge to religious orthodoxy--to the present as new species continue to be discovered, including in this decade a striped rabbit in the Mekong Delta. Conniff's parade of pioneers whose colorful exploits are recounted is at times overwhelming, but this history of the 'great age of discovery' is spellbinding. (Nov.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Book News Annotation:
A journalist and science writer with a number of excellent books to his credit, Conniff tells the stories of the brave (and sometimes obsessive) naturalists who went to the ends of the earth to discover new life forms for science. Leaving no interesting anecdote untold, the book begins in the 1730s with Linnaeus' creation of a classification system for plants and animals, and then takes readers along for the journey as collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries found new species and brought back specimens for private collectiions, museums, and scientists. Conniff shows how progress in classifying species led to great shifts in human thinking about nature and speciation, and how these shifts culminated in the development of the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace (themselves great collectors). This lively and entertaining book will appeal to anyone interested in exploration, natural history, or the history of science. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
The story of bold adventurers who risked death to discover strange life forms in the farthest corners of planet Earth.
About the Author
Richard Coniff, a Guggenheim Fellow and winner of the National Magazine Award, writes for Smithsonian and National Geographic and is a frequent commentator on NPR's All Things Considered and a guest columnist for the New York Times. His books include The Natural History of the Rich, Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time, and The Species Seekers. He lives in Old Lyme, Connecticut.
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