LINNAEUS by Lisbet Koerner

LINNAEUS

Nature and Nation
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A rich biographical study that documents the strange, often unfortunate relation between the well-known scientific thinking and the forgotten economic theories of famed Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus (1707-78). Assuming that scientific theories emanate from an imagination fixed in a particular time and place—and therefore express a world view—Koerner (History of Science/Harvard) presents Linnaeus as a rude provincial, a quack doctor and occasional social embarrassment. Descended from a long line of clergymen, the future scientist was named for a Linden tree that was taken as the family symbol. Self-educated, Linnaeus undertook from his earliest years to catalogue the entirety of nature—his own variation of his family’s calling from God. This archiving impulse yielded the triumphant taxonomy of binomial classification, the convention whereby flora and fauna are named by genus (Homo) and species (sapiens). Koerner stresses that the system is not rigorously logical or faithful to natural phenomena, but is convenient, —a useful technology passing for high science.— Useful particularly in advancing Linnaeus— economic vision, which required accurate identification of plant and animal life. Linnaeus believed that Sweden, having abandoned hope of an empire, should seek to replicate the diversity of the world on Swedish soil. Koerner provides a dismal menu of his failed projects—pearls and tea are particularly spectacular fiascos—and his equally unfortunate Scandocentric anthropological adventures among the Sami of Lapland, as he —plotted to destroy the basis of his admiration for— that indigenous culture by exploiting the natural resources upon which it relied for sustenance. Along the way, Koerner sketches Linnaeus— study and his specimen-collecting —botanical armies—: gems of generous reconstruction that make for occasionally charming entertainment. Astute and engaging: not only a useful treatment of the economic relatives of Linnaeus— well-known taxonomy, but also a taxonomy of its own, that of genus Linnaeus, species intellectual imagination. (4 halftones)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-674-09745-9
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1999