Review: The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth (Richard Conniff)

Species Seekers 120The Species Seekers is based upon two main themes. The first is that the people that became obsessed (or sought their fortunes) by discovering new species were a remarkably strange and interesting lot, and Conniff substantiaties this contention amply through the scores of fascinating sketches he provides throughout The Species Seekers. The second is that the stuffy academics that usually got the credit for new species (by being the first to describe them in the scientific literature) did not give the eccentric discoverers their due. Indeed, they often treated them with disdain.

In the course of developing his case, Conniff also takes us through the process and the individuals, from Linnaeus (and his predecessors) to the DNA researchers of the present, through which order has been brought to our understanding of the rich variety of flora and fauna with whom we share this earth.

Overall, it’s an interesting and enjoyable read, although from time to time it’s possible to get the feeling that Conniff is something of a collector of oddballs, pasting one after another into the narrative likes stamps into a collector’s album whether or not they advance the main narrative. But that’s not usually the case, and where Conniff is on target, his style is a delight (to see what I mean, read the first page of the foreword, where he describes a Napoleanic era colonel dismounting to collect a beetle just before leading a cavalry charge).

Who is this book for?  Anyone that enjoys a well written ramble through both history as well as natural history, illuminated through well-constructed biographical sketches.

Have you discovered The Alexandria Project?

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