Books  General Natural History  Biography, Exploration & Travel 

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

By: Kim Todd (Author)

328 pages, 8 colour plates, 8 b/w plates, b/w line drawings

IB Tauris

Hardback | Mar 2007 | #164550 | ISBN-13: 9781845114312
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £17.99 $22/€20 approx

About this book

Before Darwin, before Audubon, before Gilbert White, there was Merian. An artist turned naturalist, known for her botanical illustrations, Maria Sybilla Merian was born in Germany just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. But at the age of fifty she sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis – an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less an unaccompanied woman. When she returned she produced a book that secured her reputation, only to have it savaged in the nineteenth century by scientists who disdained the work of 'amateurs'. Exquisitely written and illustrated, "Chrysalis" takes us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian's insights fuel a new branch of biology. Kim Todd brilliantly brings to life a seventeenth-century woman whose boldness and vision would still be exceptional today and restores her to her rightful position amongst those scientists who have changed the way we view the world.

"An extraordinary portrait of an artist and amateur naturalist who explored the teeming life of the Amazon and helped lay the groundwork for our present-day understanding of ecology [...] With a detective's eye, Todd has pieced together the life of this neglected genius who charted the micro-world of insects [...] Todd's long overdue re-examination of Merian's work shows the extent of her scientific contributions and reminds us how much of our early understanding of biology depended on the keen eye of the amateur. This bold, wide-ranging text also considers the theological view of metamorphosis, the controversy over spontaneous generation, Merian's connection to other accomplished women of her day, her opposition to slavery in Surinam and her reliance on Amerindians to bring her specimens. A breathtaking example of scholarship and storytelling, enriched by ample illustrations of Merian's work."
- Starred review, Kirkus

"This lovely and thoughtful book sets Maria Merian's work in its natural context, restoring its true meaning and the reputation she deserves."
- Andrea Barrett, author of The Voyage of the Narwhal

"Drawing on Merian's work and personal documents, Todd sheds new light on the history and contributions of this absolutely amazing woman. Not only did her interest in science fall outside normal gender roles but Merian also traveled at the age of 50 as far as Surinam from Europe to study her beloved caterpillars [...] Todd explains that all we really need to know about the woman can be seen through the passion of her work. Todd's writing itself is lush, almost poetic, whether she is describing the science of metamorphosis or Merian's own personal metamorphoses throughout her life. Highly recommended for all public and research libraries."
- Starred review, Library Journal

"In this revolutionary biography of Maria Merian, Kim Todd has rewritten history to include this woman of courage, dedication and genius, and in doing so has turned an old notion or two on its head. This is an earth-shaking book."
- Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

"Kim Todd gives wings to the life of the artist/naturalist Maria Merian. A lovely and exhilarating book."
- Deirdre McNamer, author of My Russian

"Gifted with an innate "sense of ecology," Merian depicted insects within their habitats a century ahead of Audubon, who did the same for birds. Todd emulates Merian's richly contextual approach in her vivid descriptions of every facet of her subject's vibrant world as she insightfully chronicles Merian's extraordinary life [...] Todd's discerning analysis and deep appreciation resurrect Merian and reclaim her still vital achievements, ensuring that Merian will stand as the resourceful and courageous visionary she truly was."
- Starred review, Booklist

"Little is known about this remarkable woman except for a few letters and her beautiful engravings and watercolors, most of them published in her books on insect metamorphosis. Todd (Tinkering with Eden) fleshes out her biography with colorful descriptions of Merian's world and the people she knew, emphasizing that she was as exceptional in her art as in her life. [...] Merian fell out of favor in the 19th century, but today, when scientists have come to appreciate the importance of environment to insect development, her star is rising again. Todd's vivid account should do much to further the renewed interest in this unusual woman and her pioneering approach to insect illustration."
- Publishers Weekly

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Kim Todd's previous book, Tinkering with Eden, received the PEN/Jerard Fund Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, among others. She lives in Montana.

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