The Life of Linnaeus
A new biography offers a vivid portrait of Linnaeus’s life and work. Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), the father of modern biological taxonomy, formalised and popularised the system of binomial nomenclature used to classify plants and animals. Linnaeus himself classified thousands of species; the simple and immediately recognisable abbreviation “L” is used to mark classifications originally made by Linnaeus.
This biography, by the leading authority on Linnaeus, offers a vivid portrait of Linnaeus’s life and work. Drawing on a wide range of previously unpublished sources—including diaries and personal correspondence—and new research, it presents revealing and original accounts of his family life, the political context in which he pursued his work, and his eccentric views on sexuality.
The Man Who Organized Nature describes Linnaeus’s childhood in a landscape of striking natural beauty and how this influenced his later work. Linnaeus’s Lutheran pastor father, knowledgeable about plants and an enthusiastic gardener, helped foster an early interest in botany.
The book examines the political connections that helped Linnaeus secure patronage for his work and untangle his ideas about sexuality. These were not, as often assumed, an attempt to naturalise gender categories but more likely reflected the laissez-faire attitudes of the era. Like many other brilliant scientists, Linnaeus could be moody and egotistical; the book describes his human failures and medical and scientific achievements. Written in an engaging and accessible style, The Man Who Organized Nature—one of the only biographies of Linnaeus to appear in English—provides new and fascinating insights into the life of one of history’s most consequential and enigmatic scientists.
Read the article How Carl Linnaeus Set Out to Label All of Life by the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing winner journalist Kathryn Schulz: “A new biography …attempts to provide the fullest possible account of his life yet fails to grapple with the fundamental question it raises: if categorization is crucial to making sense of the world, how should we classify Carl Linnaeus?”
Broberg, G. (2023) The Man Who Organized Nature: The Life of Linnaeus. Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press
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