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Ordering Life

, 392 pages

11 halftones

July 2012



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Ordering Life

Karl Jordan and the Naturalist Tradition

For centuries naturalists have endeavored to name, order, and explain biological diversity. Karl Jordan (1861–1959) dedicated his long life to this effort, describing thousands of new species in the process. Ordering Life explores the career of this prominent figure as he worked to ensure a continued role for natural history museums and the field of taxonomy in the rapidly changing world of twentieth-century science.

Jordan made an effort to both practice good taxonomy and secure status and patronage in a world that would soon be transformed by wars and economic and political upheaval. Kristin Johnson traces his response to these changes and shows that creating scientific knowledge about the natural world depends on much more than just good method or robust theory. The broader social context in which scientists work is just as important to the project of naming, describing, classifying, and, ultimately, explaining life.

Kristin Johnson is an assistant professor of science, technology, and society at the University of Puget Sound.

"Johnson’s far-reaching and insightful account not only sheds new light on the many internal and external challenges that naturalists faced in the later part of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries, it also reveals the power of scientific biography in making sense of the complex, multifaceted transformations that the naturalist tradition experienced during this period."

"For those with an interest in the history of natural history."

"A very readable account of the long-lived naturalist/entomologist Karl Jordan (1861-1959)."

"Any college-level natural history holding will find this enlightening."

"Karl Jordan’s innovative methods of classifying insect species are highlighted in this biography of the early 20th century entomologist."

"Ordering Life, by Kristin Johnson, is one part biography to three parts history and philosophy of science. 'Jordan serves as a useful guide', Johnson writes, 'not only to understanding how knowledge about biodiversity is obtained but how the answer to that question has changed over time and why'."

"There are layers of richness in Johnson's book and readers will doubtless draw their own conclusions for Johnson's pleasong style leads the reader by means of historical narrtive rather than proselytization."

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