What makes a scientist? In a charming memoir, beloved and brilliant scientist Richard Fortey offers a tour of the natural world in all its joys, puzzles and curiosities.
In this memoir, Richard Fortey – a palaeontologist and natural historian – tells the story of how as a young boy he became fascinated with the natural world, leading to a long life exploring its secrets. He leads a journey through botany and birds, fossils and fungi, using a different object to lead each chapter.
A great brown trout caught by his father opens up the world of fish, streams and rivers. A blue thrush's egg takes us out tramping through water meadows and into the social world of birds and trees. Richard takes us back to his past as a small boy who was allowed a little shed at the bottom of the garden in which to play chemist, and where, with the guidance of the encyclopaedia, he made the likes of potassium cyanide from horse hoof clippings, and then the 'smelliest substance' – a chemical that when taken outside the shed's confines brought mayhem to his school, and the Central Line.
Educational and inspiring, this is a charming memoir of a life in the thrall of science and the wonders of the natural world.
Richard Fortey retired from his position as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum in 2006. He is the author of several books, including Fossils: A Key to the Past, The Hidden Landscape which won The Natural World Book of the Year in 1993, Life: An Unauthorised Biography, Trilobite! and The Earth: An Intimate History. He has been elected to be President of the Geological Society of London for its bicentennial year of 2007, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.
"Truth and courage are what memoirs need and this one has them both in spades [...] He never forgets that the small boy, watching his father's effortless casting on the waters of the Itchen, somehow remains permanently present inside the great, famous and lauded scientist. The unforgotten boy: that is what makes this a book a revelation"
– Adam Nicolson, winner of the 2018 Wainwright Prize
"A wonderful, absolutely beguiling glimpse into the formative life of a great scientist. I learnt a lot and really loved it"
– Richard Holmes