THE RULING PASSION OF JOHN GOULD by Isabella Tree

THE RULING PASSION OF JOHN GOULD

A Biography of the Bird Man
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Lively portrait of the ornithologist whose groundbreaking works of bird descriptions and taxonomy far exceeded in volume, if not in quality, those of his American rival, Audubon. When Darwin landed in England after the five-year voyage of the Beagle, he went to John Gould with his Gal†pagos Island bird collection. Gould's identification of Darwin's new-found species catalyzed the theory of evolution and served as its foundation. Gould, however, was just finishing his 1832 Birds of Europe, with its trailblazing illustrations by Edward Lear (of nonsense-verse fame), and preparing to embark to the ornithologically uncharted colony of Australia, and so scarcely blinked at his friend's discoveries. Here, Tree (an editor at Britain's Geographical magazine) paints a colorful portrait of Gould and his times--the dawning of the Age of Science, in which England had an insatiable appetite for exotic species of flora and fauna; everyone with a piece of land was a gardener; monarchs vied with each other over exotic animals in their menageries; and the Royal Zoological Society was newly formed and financing collecting expeditions to the four corners of the earth. Gould, a gardener's son who learned taxidermy, came to naturalists' attention through his skillful stuffing of a giraffe--the first seen in England: The animal had been a special pet of King George IV. After educating himself in ornithology and marrying Elizabeth Coxen--an extraordinary partner who produced over 500 lithographs of birds (as well as eight children)--Gould embarked on classifying the birds of Australia, Asia, and Europe, and published monographs on toucans, hummingbirds, and partridges: Many of his books remain standard works. Tree's description of Gould's Australian expedition--the hazards and wonders of the bush (his longtime assistant was murdered by an aborigine spear)--is especially interesting. No birding enthusiast will want to be without a copy for his or her shelf. (Six color reproductions; 16 pages of b&w illustrations--not seen.)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-8021-1463-6
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1992