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51 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How We Understood the Plants,
Pavord has much to say about the Greek philosopher Theophrastus, not only in the beginning of the book, but throughout it, as she admires the depth of his accomplishments and wishes that all subsequent classifiers had been so careful. Theophrastus was a friend and successor to Aristotle. Pavord is critical of many authors, and of the way their books look to us now. There is a history of plant illustration within these pages. Pliny had been against illustrations of plants in books, because they would have been copied badly; pictures were also difficult to integrate within the original system of scrolls. The eventual woodcuts did not have to be crude, with many reproduced here showing swirling masses of plants or delicate leaves in fine detail. The final engravings that became included in plant books could show enough useful detail to be excellent field guides, although for centuries authors relied on previous works of folklore. The famous but flawed _Herball_ (1597) of John Gerard ("a plagiarist and a crook") showed a realistic picture of a barnacle tree (denominated _Britannica concha anatifera_), the tree that was said to produce barnacle geese. Pavord's book is big, and is lavishly illustrated, with a third of the pages being taken up with illustrations (most in color) nicely keyed to her text.
Along with Theophrastus, Pavord's highest praise goes to Englishman John Ray, who in 1696 coined the term "botany". He provided six rules by which to categorize plants, not only the ones familiar to him in England, but the spectacular finds being brought from distant lands. Others had previously insisted on classifying plants by use, which was entirely artificial, or more helpfully by leaf or seed form, but it was Ray who put botany on its first real foundation by noting the distinction of seeds that sprout with one leaf or two (we still classify monocotyledon and dicotyledon). He had made scientific order ascendant in his field. He knew he was part of an ongoing process, predicting that future botanists would look back and "our proudest discoveries will seem slight, obvious, almost worthless." He might have been right, but seen as a tribute to their efforts, _The Naming of Names_ shows how these discoveries, achieved over the centuries by curious, devoted, and fallible plantsmen, have brought us to our current understandings. Pavord's book essentially ends with Ray, barely mentioning the recent advances that have been made with DNA testing; such tests have confirmed much of what was eventually realized as the evolutionary tree, but have upset other parts as well. It has been a long botanical trip, and Pavord's deep scholarship and inclusion of gorgeous illustrations make the journey enormous fun.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thorough Review of the Roots of Taxonomy,
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book!,
This review is from: The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants (Hardcover)Great book! Amazing illustrations.
The author is very good at telling a long history of over 2000 years on how a standard taxonomy was created for all plants and living things.
For some reason Anna Pavord likes to divide all the historical characters in "good guys" and "bad guys". May be it is true, but sometime reading the book I have the impression of watching an Hollywood movie. But don't worry, as in every respectable Hollywood film, the good guys at the end will prevail.
The battle to establish a set of universal conventions to name plats is not yet over! For example take a look at Wikipedia (the English version) and you will see that the scientific notation is not used as a standard way to name plants. For reason I completely ignore many Americans still prefer the ambiguous local notation over the scientific one (not surprising, they still discussing about creationism...).
4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A long walk through many gardens,
A half dozen are from Otto Brunfels' "Herbarium vivae eicones" of 1530-36, which is generally considered the first modern illustrated plant book. Author Anna Pavord does not think much of Brunfels' text, but the illustrations by Hans Weiditz (pupil of Durer) are famous -- and hard to find. No modern reprint of "Herbarium vivae eicones" is available, so "The Naming of Names" is probably the cheapest and most easily obtained look at Weiditz' important technique.
There also are many examples from Leonhart Fuchs' important "De Historia stirpium." You can find a modern facsimile of this 1542 book, but it will set you back about $300.
So, "The Naming of Names" is a bargain source of pretty plant pictures. What of the text? This is not so satisfactory.
There are a number of attractive features about Pavord's writing. It seems all Englishwomen and men can write lyrically about the countryside, and Pavord is no exception.
She covers a great deal of countryside, too, from Kent to Kazakhstan. These mini-travelogues are the most pleasurable parts of the book.
"The Naming of Names" has the defects of its qualities. It is discursive, informal, occasionally witty, and repetitive. Pavord has an irritating habit of slipping in and out of the historical present tense for no discernible reason.
Her thesis can be compactly stated, although the exposition is extensive, almost to the point of tedium, because of the repetitions.
First came Theophrastus, who asked, what are plants, how do we distinguish among them? He had a philosophical outlook but many who followed were more concerned that the "simples" gathered by "ignorant women" were actually the plants that the educated doctors believed were effective remedies.
But since there was not even a vocabulary available to describe whole plants or their parts, it was impossible for the savants to be sure they were talking about the same plant. (Or animal, since during the span of this book, corals were thought to be plants.)
It took about 2,000 years for Theophrastus' question to be answered, finally, by John Ray. In between, plantsmen had many adventures -- not a few either fled for their lives or lost them during the wars of religion. (Pavord, like so many English Protestants, hasn't quite declared an armistice.)
Sometimes it felt as if it was going to take another 2,000 years for Pavord to get to her point, but in the end she does. Gardeners in temperate climes have a lot of time to read during the winter, anyway, and "The Naming of Names" makes a nice change from dreaming over seed catalogues and waiting for spring.
1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Botanical Illustrations,
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The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants by Anna Pavord (Hardcover - November 29, 2005)
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