A whistle-stop tour of the history of natural history.
When I first got into science and history (and the history of science) during my teens, I bought and devoured a number of lavishly illustrated coffee-table books on the subjects: Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man, James Burke's Connections, Magnus Magnusson's The Vikings, Michael Wood's In Search Of…. In addition to being great reads, all of these books had one thing in common: their smell. It's a smell that's impossible to describe, other than by saying it's the smell of lavishly illustrated coffee-table books.
The Great Naturalists has that same smell. It's a wonderful book which explains how our understanding of natural history developed through the centuries. It does this by describing the lives and works of a few dozen great naturalists, from classical times to the end of the 19th century. This is a massive subject area, so, understandably, the potted biographies are rather brief, but they do at least introduce you to most of the key players in the history of natural history. And the illustrations are utterly magnificent.
Trust me, you really should buy this book.