About the Book
A global history of botany and plant collecting in 18th century based on original research in many languages.
Joseph Banks, botanist for Cook's great voyage to the South Pacific on The Endeavour, was a child of the Enlightenment. He believed that reason, in the shape of scientific knowledge, was the key to political and economic progress. He was also what Malcolm Gladwell terms ‘a connector'. In the second half of the 18th century, people who wanted something done in science and exploration went to Banks. And what Banks cared most about was botany.
Botany was the darling of European science in this period. A bounty of new plants was found wherever European ships ventured, in the Atlantic, the Indian and the Pacific Oceans. Exotic plants entered and changed Europe in many different ways: as ornamental varieties that began to adorn private gardens; or medicinal agents applied to cure what had been considered incurable conditions; or industrial raw materials; or as new and brilliant dyes. This was a time when travelling physically also meant travelling intellectually. Banks and his fellow pioneers were expanding the horizons of knowledge itself.
Jordan Goodman's brilliant, epic history tells how science changed the balance of powers in the world. Each of its thirteen chapters follows a different expedition or mission set in motion by Banks – Masson's voyage to Cape Colony, Staunton's plant hunting in China, James Bowie in Australia, Bligh in Tahiti and Jamaica, Roxburgh and the founding of the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, to name just a few. It is a vast story, spanning every continent – a huge jigsaw, told through meticulous use of Banks's 20,000 extant letters, scattered across the globe from San Francisco to Australia. This is a book that tells great stories, on every continent of the planet.