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Finding Order in Nature

Paperback
, 152 pages

15 halftones, 7 line drawings

ISBN:
9780801863905
June 2000
$26.00

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Finding Order in Nature

The Naturalist Tradition from Linnaeus to E. O. Wilson

Since emerging as a discipline in the middle of the eighteenth century, natural history has been at the heart of the life sciences. It gave rise to the major organizing theory of life—evolution—and continues to be a vital science with impressive practical value. Central to advanced work in ecology, agriculture, medicine, and environmental science, natural history also attracts enormous popular interest.

In Finding Order in Nature Paul Farber traces the development of the naturalist tradition since the Enlightenment and considers its relationship to other research areas in the life sciences. Written for the general reader and student alike, the volume explores the adventures of early naturalists, the ideas that lay behind classification systems, the development of museums and zoos, and the range of motives that led collectors to collect. Farber also explores the importance of sociocultural contexts, institutional settings, and government funding in the story of this durable discipline.

"The quest for insight into the order of nature leads naturalists beyond classification to the creation of general theories that explain the living world. Those naturalists who focus on the order of nature inquire about the ecological relationships among organisms and also among organisms and their surrounding environments. They ask fundamental questions of evolution, about how change actually occurs over short and long periods of time. Many naturalists are drawn, consequently, to deeper philosophical and ethical issues: What is the extent of our ability to understand nature? And, understanding nature, will we be able to preserve it? Naturalists question the meaning of the order they discover and ponder our moral responsibility for it."—from the Introduction

Paul Lawrence Farber is the Oregon State University Distinguished Professor of History of Science and chair of the Department of History at Oregon State University.

"The history of natural history can rarely have been as succinctly told as in Paul Lawrence Farber's 129-page Finding Order in Nature. From the intellectual revolutions of Linnaeus and Darwin through the Victorian obsessions with classifying and collecting, to the conservationists led by E. O. Wilson, it is an odyssey beautifully told."

"Farber artfully compresses into one small, engaging volume the span of natural history as a field of study from its beginnings in the 18th century to the present day... What results is truly an introduction to the subject... a concise work that gives the general reader a solid understanding."

"Farber does an impressive job of demonstrating how practitioners like Linnaeus, Buffon, Saint-Hilaire and Cuvier advanced the field and set the stage for the development of science as we know it today... [An] estimable volume."

"Broadly charts the intellectual, epistemological, aesthetic, and cultural work of the naturalist tradition—from the great eighteenth-century systematic nomenclators Linnaeus and Buffon, through the nineteenth-century evolutionary theorists Darwin and Wallace, to contemporary American entomologist Edward O. Wilson. It reflects a generalist sensibility and is valuable precisely because its scope is broad and its story compelling."

"In this exciting and innovative book, Paul Farber provides a sweeping synthesis of the development of natural history over the previous two and a half centuries. Anyone hoping to come to terms with the meaning and place of natural history in the modern world will definitely want to start with this book."