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Overview

Drawing on letters, poems, notebooks, and secret diaries, Lisbet Koerner tells the moving story of one of the most famous naturalists who ever lived, the Swedish-born botanist and systematizer, Carl Linnaeus. The first scholarly biography of this great Enlightenment scientist in almost one hundred years, Linnaeus also recounts for the first time Linnaeus' grand and bizarre economic projects: to "teach" tea, saffron, and rice to grow on the Arctic tundra and to domesticate buffaloes, guinea pigs, and elks as Swedish farm animals.

Linnaeus hoped to reproduce the economy of empire and colony within the borders of his family home by growing cash crops in Northern Europe. Koerner shows us the often surprising ways he embarked on this project. Her narrative goes against the grain of Linnaean scholarship old and new by analyzing not how modern Linnaeus was, but how he understood science in his time. At the same time, his attempts to organize a state economy according to principles of science prefigured an idea that has become one of the defining features of modernity. Meticulously researched, and based on archival data, Linnaeus will be of compelling interest to historians of the Enlightenment, historians of economics, and historians of science. But this engaging, often funny, and sometimes tragic portrait of a great man will be valued by general readers as well.

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Editorial Reviews

Nature

Most Linnaeus scholarship has, understandably, focused on the work that inspired his contemporary renown. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation offers something different. It is neither a conventional biography nor a reinterpretation of Linnaeus's best-known scientific accomplishments, although it includes elements of both. Instead, in a series of linked essays, Lisbet Koerner repositions Linnaeus primarily as a Swede rather than as a member of an international intellectual community. She emphasizes his deep family roots in the Swedish church and countryside, rather than his links to the larger world...As Koerner puts it, 'He hoped to ride elks, write with swan feathers, and read by the light of seal-fat lamps.' And if there were desires that could not be fulfilled in this way, Linnaeus hoped to persuade valuable tropical plants to adapt to his cold northern climate.
— Harriet Ritvo

New Scientist
In Linnaeus, Lisbet Koerner discovers a complex man--paternalistic, patriotic, self-important and slightly mendacious. Jealous of British colonial and scientific success, Linnaeus promoted schemes for naturalising food crops such as tea, rice and olives to improve Swedish economic self-sufficiency.
New Republic

This is a book about what Koerner calls the 'long-forgotten future of the past.' It is about a complex vision of modernity whereby nations at the margins of progress seek their own way forward. The path was not plain in the eighteenth century, and it is not, Koerner suggests, so clear now.
— Thomas W. Laqueur

Washington Times

The great Swede, who was born in 1707 and died in 1778, is now the subject of a succinct and impressively researched biography by Lisbet Koerner. Single-handedly, Linnaeus standardized the naming and classifying of plants and animals based on morphological characteristics with his now famous binormial nomenclature—the first name is the organism's genus, the second its species...In this well-written book, the author concentrates on two big themes: Linnaeus' concerns about his own nation and his contributions to science.
— Raymond L. Peterson

Science News
Carl Linneaus' legacy is generally considered his system of plant classification. However, scientific historian Koerner explores the naturalist from a new angle. She argues that Linnaeus' scientific goals helped lead to economic growth and independence for his homeland, Sweden.
Booklist

Linnaeus is remembered as the botanist who established the plant classification system still used today, but actually, according to science historian Koerner, he was a jack-of-all-trades. He was also a doctor, teacher, economist, and theologian...Koerner, drawing on a wide spectrum of sources, places her fascinating subject firmly within the context of eighteenth-century European thought, and reveals Linnaeus' grand plan for applying his systematization of nature to politics and economics in the hope of transforming Sweden into a self-sufficient state...[An] agile and incisive reconsideration of a significant and misunderstood man of science.
— Donna Seaman

Times Literary Supplement

"[Koerner's] Linnaeus is not the typical one of scholarship and legend. And in recovering him, she has done something few do. She has shown a way in which the eighteenth century and its 'enlightened' projects grew out of the seventeenth century and its 'baroque' ones...The text is written with wit and irony...The prose is spare, precise, calm and repays rereading. It is, indeed, Linnaean in spirit...Thanks to Koerner, Linnaeus has become one of my favorite eighteenth-century figures."
— William Clark

Taxon

Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) is the subject of Lisbet Koerner's brilliant, beautifully crafted, and unsettling book…A certain gentle irony pervades this book and its view of history…This is a book about what Koerner calls the 'long forgotten future of the past.' It is about a complex vision of modernity whereby nations at the margins of progress seek their own way forward.
— Thomas W. Laqueur

American Historical Review

In an extraordinarily thorough research of Linnaeus's Swedish and Latin publications, manuscript correspondence, diaries, and lecture notes, Lisbet Koerner relates the quest for natural knowledge to the ultimate goals of nation-building and eighteenth-century cameralist economics…Students of Linnaeus will find this book indispensable, with flashes of brilliant insight.
— Martin S. Staum

Nature - Harriet Ritvo
Most Linnaeus scholarship has, understandably, focused on the work that inspired his contemporary renown. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation offers something different. It is neither a conventional biography nor a reinterpretation of Linnaeus's best-known scientific accomplishments, although it includes elements of both. Instead, in a series of linked essays, Lisbet Koerner repositions Linnaeus primarily as a Swede rather than as a member of an international intellectual community. She emphasizes his deep family roots in the Swedish church and countryside, rather than his links to the larger world...As Koerner puts it, 'He hoped to ride elks, write with swan feathers, and read by the light of seal-fat lamps.' And if there were desires that could not be fulfilled in this way, Linnaeus hoped to persuade valuable tropical plants to adapt to his cold northern climate.
New Republic - Thomas W. Laqueur
Carl Linnaeus (1707-78) is the subject of Lisbet Koerner's brilliant, beautifully crafted, and unsettling book…A certain gentle irony pervades this book and its view of history…This is a book about what Koerner calls the 'long forgotten future of the past.' It is about a complex vision of modernity whereby nations at the margins of progress seek their own way forward.
Washington Times - Raymond L. Peterson
The great Swede, who was born in 1707 and died in 1778, is now the subject of a succinct and impressively researched biography by Lisbet Koerner. Single-handedly, Linnaeus standardized the naming and classifying of plants and animals based on morphological characteristics with his now famous binormial nomenclature--the first name is the organism's genus, the second its species...In this well-written book, the author concentrates on two big themes: Linnaeus' concerns about his own nation and his contributions to science.
Booklist - Donna Seaman
Linnaeus is remembered as the botanist who established the plant classification system still used today, but actually, according to science historian Koerner, he was a jack-of-all-trades. He was also a doctor, teacher, economist, and theologian...Koerner, drawing on a wide spectrum of sources, places her fascinating subject firmly within the context of eighteenth-century European thought, and reveals Linnaeus' grand plan for applying his systematization of nature to politics and economics in the hope of transforming Sweden into a self-sufficient state...[An] agile and incisive reconsideration of a significant and misunderstood man of science.
Times Literary Supplement - William Clark
[Koerner's] Linnaeus is not the typical one of scholarship and legend. And in recovering him, she has done something few do. She has shown a way in which the eighteenth century and its 'enlightened' projects grew out of the seventeenth century and its 'baroque' ones...The text is written with wit and irony...The prose is spare, precise, calm and repays rereading. It is, indeed, Linnaean in spirit...Thanks to Koerner, Linnaeus has become one of my favorite eighteenth-century figures.
American Historical Review - Martin S. Staum
In an extraordinarily thorough research of Linnaeus's Swedish and Latin publications, manuscript correspondence, diaries, and lecture notes, Lisbet Koerner relates the quest for natural knowledge to the ultimate goals of nation-building and eighteenth-century cameralist economics…Students of Linnaeus will find this book indispensable, with flashes of brilliant insight.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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 animals--such as saffron and tea--hoping 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 Cahners Business Information.
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.--Marianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Houston Libs. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Rejecting the focus of earlier studies on how modern Linneas (1707-78) was, Koerner (history of science, Harvard U.) examines his actual thought processes and aspirations as revealed in letters, poems, notebooks, and secret diaries. Of particular interest to her is his desire to teach tropical plants to live in the north and to domesticate wild animals to provide his native Sweden with the same degree of economy as empires with colonies. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674005655
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/16/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 0.67 (d)

Meet the Author

Lisbet Koerner is an associate of the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University.
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Table of Contents

Introduction. "To Apply Nature to Economics and Vice Versa"

"A Geography of Nature": Natural Philosophy

"A Clapper into a Bell": Floral Names

"The Lapp Is Our Teacher": Medicine and Ethnography

"God's Endless Larder": Theology

"A New WorldPepper, Ginger, Cardamon": Economic Theory

"Should Coconuts Chance to Come into My Hands": Acclimatization Experiments

"The Lord of All of Sweden's Clams": A Local Life

"His Farmers Dressed in Mourning": The Fate of Linnaeus' Ideas in Sweden

Conclusion. "Without Science Our Herrings Would Still Be Caught by Foreigners": A Local Modernity

Appendix: Chronology of Linnaeus and Linnaeana

Appendix: Biographical References

Abbreviations

Notes

Works Cited

Acknowledgments

Index

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