Linnaeus: Nature and Nation Kindle Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674005655
ISBN-10: 0674005651
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Carl Linnaeus was one of Sweden's greatest scientists and the man who, almost 250 years ago, created the binomial scientific nomenclature still in use today. Harvard historian of science Koerner takes her place alongside several other Linnaeus biographers with her scholarly look at his life and times, including some of the scientist's more foolish projects. Koerner's work is "both a biography and a case study of the relation between natural knowledge and political economy in the early Enlightenment." Thus, she focuses on Linnaeus's attempts to use science to enrich the failing Swedish economy. Linnaeus came of age in the 18th century after Sweden had suffered a series of serious military defeats and famines and at a time when the country's trade deficit threatened to destabilize its political environment. Believing that it was possible to make Sweden economically independent through effective cultivation of the world's natural resources, Linnaeus worked diligently to import a wide array of plants and animalsAsuch as saffron and teaAhoping to acclimate them to the harsh Scandinavian climate. Unfortunately, none of his experiments were successful, and Linnaeus's utilitarian approach to science had to be discarded. While Koerner's perspective is interesting and yields some new insights, her reliance on academic jargon makes for very difficult reading. (Dec.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Koerner's biography of Carl Linnaeus (best remembered for his work in botany and as the originator of a taxonomic classification system of plants) shows that this scientist was interested in a great deal more than just vegetation. Placing Linnaeus's botanical studies in the larger context of his life's work, Koerner explores his ideas about the relationship between nature and national economics. Linnaeus comes across as a hopeless optimist and a schemer who employed a host of tricks (exaggeration, lies, rhetoric, and self-promotion) in his pursuit of a state economy modeled on the principles of the natural world; his grand and often absurd economic suggestions (growing tea and other exotic plants in the Arctic tundra, raising guinea pigs as farm animals) were all attempts to make Sweden's economy less dependent on imported goods. Throughout, Koerner wisely relies on passages from Linnaeus's own writing to illustrate her arguments; much of what she recounts would otherwise be hard to believe. And overall, her arguments are well crafted: she deftly balances his shortcomings against his good intentions and knowledge. Recommended for large public libraries and all academic libraries.AMarianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Houston Libs.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 4436 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 16, 2001)
  • Publication Date: May 16, 2001
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005K8MR8K
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. I. D. McCormick on July 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
‘Gazing at a flower by the grass-roofed cottage where he was born [...] Linnaeus was quintessentially a local man.’ (187). But as Lisbet Koerner explains, he also linked the ‘universal with the local [...] nature with nation.’ In this fascinating account, Koerner demonstrates that the father of modern taxonomy was also a political economist. Unlike Adam Smith, his interest was no so much in international trade or colonial conquest, but the substitution of imports (a cameralist program).
Although Linnaeus had travelled in Holland, France, and Engalnd (1735-48) there were nineteen ‘first-generation’ students who undertook ‘voyages of discover’ between 1745 and 1792. Koerner asserts that their travels ‘were part of their larger strategy to create a miniature mercantile empire within a European state’ (114). Linnaeus sensed that ‘explorers fostered strategies of national improvement based on ecological diversification rather than on territoral expansion.’ (114).
Linnaeus, it is argued was essentially a civil servant who turned his students into an efffective and efficient support staff. Chapter 3 deals with the Lapland journey. In line with economic and political priorities the area was to be colonized as a kind of Scandinavian “West Indies”. As a committed Lutheran, its is fascinating to deconstruct the theology at work in Linnaeus’s thought. Nature was a prelapsarian Paradise, but it must be exploited within each country. Accordingly, Linnaesus was concerned by the luxury and excess of products that trade supplied from the cornucopia of the New World. As this book notes, ‘He even urged Scandinavians to return to the old “Gothic foods,” such as acorns, pork, and mead.
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By A Customer on February 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A biography filled with wonderful detail, even though centering on Linnaeus' economic program. At times the author appears to be making fun of Linnaeus' odder ideas rather than attempting serious historical analysis, but in all a good job and an interesting argument.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Linnaeus : Nature and Nation
by Lisbet Koerner
Reviewed by Thomas Leo Ogren, author of Allergy-Free Gardening, Ten Speed Press.
Honestly I have mixed feelings about this book. One, I love it and really did enjoy reading it. I learned quite a bit from it too.
But I do wish it had been written in a more reader-friendly manner. It is a good bit too scholarly for my tastes, a trifle too text-bookishly written.
One of the important things about Linnaeus himself is that he always tried to reach the common man, tried to make his work popular and easily understood. I feel this book could have emulated some of that flavor.
But I don't mean to be too critical by any means because I did like this book very much. There is a real wealth of research here, many things about Linnaeus here that I'd never read before. Karl Linnaeus was THE botanist--of his time, and of our own time as well. His system of binomial nomenclature, Genus species, was pretty much right on the money. He was the first to realize that plants' sexual characteristics were what largely either grouped them together or set them apart. His system is often criticized today, but to me it still makes great sense.
Linnaeus : Nature and Nation, is not for everyone, but serious gardeners will enjoy it, as will historians, especially those with an interest in botany, horticulture, science. Well worth reading.
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Format: Hardcover
It has become axiomatic that historians of science know little about either. This revisionist treatment of the foibles of 18th century Swedish life paints poor Linnaeus as a whacko. However, he really wasn't too far removed from the contemporary members of the Royal Society of London in credulity, self promotion and ignorance and was certainly typical of Swedish Professors of that and more recent times.
This is really a silly book first produced under the tuterage of Simon Schama and reissued from HUP. The author does not acknowledge the intellectual ferment of the time when the Enlightenment was being crushed under the heels of van Herder and by the Romantic curse (that we still enjoy as political correctness). The greatest contribution of the Linne's systematics was the "taxonomic key" that allows some order out of biology, not his fatuous attempts to make booze out of lichens or grow pineapples in Bothnia.
I suppose other historians of "science" will someday mock Aristotle for his ignorance of DNA and not knowing how many teeth women have, but really, this is a silly book.
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Format: Hardcover
A fascinating account of what a strange place the 18th century was. The age of confusion more than the age of reason. Who would have thought that Linnaeus had so much in common with today's new age cranks.
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