Joseph Banks: A Life

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Overview

One of our greatest writers about the sea has written an engrossing story of one of history's most legendary maritime explorers. Patrick O'Brian's biography of naturalist, explorer and co-founder of Australia, Joseph Banks, is narrative history at its finest. Published to rave reviews, it reveals Banks to be a man of enduring importance, and establishes itself as a classic of exploration.

"It is in his description of that arduous three-year voyage [on the ship Endeavor] that Mr. O'Brian is at his most brilliant. ...

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Overview

One of our greatest writers about the sea has written an engrossing story of one of history's most legendary maritime explorers. Patrick O'Brian's biography of naturalist, explorer and co-founder of Australia, Joseph Banks, is narrative history at its finest. Published to rave reviews, it reveals Banks to be a man of enduring importance, and establishes itself as a classic of exploration.

"It is in his description of that arduous three-year voyage [on the ship Endeavor] that Mr. O'Brian is at his most brilliant. . . . He makes us understand what life within this wooden world was like, with its 94 male souls, two dogs, a cat and a goat."—Linda Colley, New York Times

"An absorbing, finely written overview, meant for the general reader, of a major figure in the history of natural science."—Frank Stewart, Los Angeles Times

"[This book is] the definitive biography of an extraordinary subject."—Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

"His skill at narrative and his extensive knowledge of the maritime history . . . give him a definite leg up in telling this . . . story."—Tom Clark, San Francisco Chronicle

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In this bustling and arty portrait, English biographer O'Brian, author of the Aubrey-Maturin historical seafaring series, depicts naturalist and explorer Joseph Banks (1743-1820) as a man of unflagging energy and intellectual curiosity. Banks explored Newfoundland and Iceland, developed Kew Gardens into a major botanical center, presided over the Royal Society, accompanied Capt. James Cook on his first voyage around the world and spurred the colonization of Australia as a penal colony. He also concocted the scheme to transplant breadfruit from the South Seas to Jamaica on Captain William Bligh's Bounty , a plan that resulted in the famous mutiny. Amiable, kind and unprejudiced toward the Polynesians he encountered on his travels, Banks is described as ``in some ways a curiously impersonal man'' whose inner self remains hidden even in his seafaring journals, excerpts from which appear in this elegant biography cum spirited adventure. Illustrated. Reader's Subscription Book Club and Garden Book Club alternates. (Feb.)
Library Journal
O'Brian, creator of the popular fiction series depicting the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars, demonstrates his considerable research talents with this biography. Banks (1743-1820), who served for over 40 years as president of the Royal Society, Britain's oldest scientific institution, was the quintessential Englishman of this period. As a young botanist, Banks accompanied Captain Cook on a global voyage that culminated in the ``discovery'' of Australia. Later Banks helped to establish London's Kew Gardens as the world's greatest botanical center. A man of unusual energy and influence, he was instrumental in promoting the careers of other notable men. His considerable correspondence and journals have allowed O'Brian to write a solid biography that is rich in scholarship and engaging in style. Recommended for public libraries.-- Laurie Bartolini, Lin coln Lib., Springfield, Ill.
Booknews
A biography of Joseph Banks (1743-1820), naturalist, explorer (as a young botanist, he accompanied Captain Cook on the expedition that resulted in the discovery of Australia), and president for more than 40 years of the Royal Society, Britain's oldest scientific institution. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
A finely wrought and fascinating biography from O'Brian, acclaimed author of historical naval adventures (The Truelove, 1992, etc.), who now turns his considerable storytelling talents to the life of Joseph Banks (1743-1820)—explorer, botanist, natural philosopher. Banks is a biographer's dream subject: He wrote letters by the peck and drove, left thousands of journal pages, and led an eventful, public life. As a young man, he served as expedition botanist on Captain James Cook's first circumnavigation of the globe (thus claiming his fame), then went on to develop the royal gardens at Kew into a world-class botanical collection; to produce the colossal collection of botanical treasures from the Cook's Endeavour voyage; to make vibrant the moribund Royal Society during his long presidency; to spur the colonization of Australia; and to spend years as privy councillor and close friend to George III. Banks even concocted the breadfruit transplant scheme that brought mutiny to the Bounty and Captain Bligh to the silver screen. O'Brian has a gift for taking a swarm of potentially suffocating details and spinning a compelling story, full of marvelous understatements ("He showed remarkable courage when faced with angry cannibals"; "The inhabitants behaved in a somewhat murderous fashion"), complete with delightful minutiae from the byways and backwaters of Banks's life. Here, O'Brian really shines as a writer, pure and simple, wielding his graceful and stylish prose with great dexterity. Fortunately, he is not so in love with his own voice that he doesn't let Banks speak for himself. Long passages directly from the naturalist's journals are wisely included; their raw, abbreviatedquality lends a keen immediacy to the narrative. An impressive achievement, destined to swell the ranks of O'Brian's already sizable readership. (Eight pages of halftones.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226616285
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1997
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 854,281
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian
Patrick O'Brian's historic naval adventure novels were solely the pleasure of British readers until the late '80s; but for Americans, it's better late than never. The appearance of the author's Aubrey-Maturin series in the States, with its compelling protagonists and rich period detail from the Napoleonic Wars, earned thousands of fans including Iris Murdoch, Eudora Welty and Tom Stoppard.

Biography

In addition to the twenty volumes of the highly-respected Aubrey/Maturin series, Patrick O'Brian's many novels include Testimonies, The Golden Ocean, and The Unknown Shore. O'Brian has also written acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and has translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle. Born in 1914, he passed away in January 2000.

Patrick O'Brian was one of the great authors of the twentieth century, whose novels were often compared by critics to the work of Jane Austen and even Homer. A writer of breathtaking erudition, Mr. O'Brian evoked in complete and dazzling detail an entire world -- that of the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. In addition to formidable scholarship, Mr. O'Brian brought to his work keen psychological insights, a sharp wit, and fast-paced, heart-stopping action.

In a cover story in The New York Times Book Review published on January 6, 1991, nine years to the day before Mr. O'Brian's death, Richard Snow wrote that Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin naval adventure novels are "the best historical novels ever written. On every page Mr. O'Brian reminds us with subtle artistry of the most important of all historical lessons: that times change but people don't, that the griefs and follies and victories of the men and women who were here before us are in fact the maps of our own lives." In a Washington Post article published August 2, 1992, Ken Ringle wrote, "The Aubrey/Maturin series far beyond any episodic chronicle, ebbs and flows with the timeless tide of character and the human heart."

W.W. Norton & Company began publishing Patrick O'Brian's books in 1990. The previous year, Norton's editor-in-chief, Starling Lawrence, had read The Reverse of the Medal on a trans-Atlantic flight, fallen hard for the series, and had become convinced that Norton ought to publish Mr. O'Brian's works in the U.S. Norton decided to publish each new book in hardcover as it was completed and to bring out the earlier books in the series in paperback until they had caught up. The first season, Norton published The Letter of Marque (# 12) in hardcover and Master and Commander (# 1) and Post Captain (# 2) in paperback. Most recently, Norton published Blue at the Mizzen (# 20) in hardcover in 1999 and in paperback in 2000. At present, Norton has all of the books in the series available in uniform hardcover and paperback editions.

In addition to the twenty books in the Aubrey/Maturin series, Norton has published a short story collection (The Rendezvous and Other Stories) and three of Mr. O'Brian's other novels: Testimonies, The Golden Ocean, and The Unknown Shore. O'Brian has also written acclaimed biographies of Pablo Picasso and Sir Joseph Banks and has translated many works from the French, among them the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle. In April of 2000, Norton published Caesar: The Life Story of a Panda-Leopard, his very first book, begun when he was just twelve, and Hussein: An Entertainment, written when he was about twenty years old. Both of these books had long been out of print.

Starting in the early 1990s, Mr. O'Brian achieved, at long last, the critical and popular recognition that was his due. All of his new books published since 1993 have appeared on national bestseller charts, and his books have sold well over three million copies in the U.S. alone.

Mr. O'Brian once said, "Obviously, I have lived very much out of the world: I know little of present-day Dublin or London or Paris, even less of post-modernity, post-structuralism, hard rock or rap, and I cannot write with much conviction about the contemporary scene." [Patrick O'Brian: Critical Essays and a Bibliography, edited by Arthur Cunningham]. In fact, Mr. O'Brian often seemed to have walked out of another era, and in his interactions with his publisher, he displayed a level of courtesy and civility rarely seen in our times.

Author biography courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Richard Patrick Russ
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 12, 1914
    2. Place of Birth:
      Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire
    1. Date of Death:
      January 2, 2000
    2. Place of Death:
      Dublin, Ireland

Table of Contents

Preface
1: Origins. Education. Botany
2: Newfoundland and Labrador
3: The Royal Society. Solander. the Endeavour Voyage
4: Tahiti and the Transit of Venus
5: New Zealand. Botany Bay and the Great Barrier Reef
6: Home Again. Resolution. Iceland
7: The Great Florilegium. Omai. Soho Square
8: President of the Royal Society. Marriage. the King and Kew. Botany Bay
9: HM's Sheep. Plant Collectors. Bligh and Bounty. Revolution in France
10: War. New South Wales. the Privy Council
11: Trouble in Sydney and Iceland. Declining Health. the End
12: His Will, and some Letters
Notes
Bibliography
Index

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