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In 1758, Carl Linnaeus published the 10th edition of Systema Naturae, in which he named all of life as he knew it. Over 250 years his system of binomial scientific naming, beautiful and powerful in its simplicity and adaptability, has enabled universal communication about nature. The letters collected in this book reveal Linnaeus' personal impact, advances and developments in science since his death, the profound impact he has had on generations of naturalists and what we might expect in the next 250 years.
In order to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the publication of Linnaeus' landmark work, editors Dr Sandra Knapp (Natural History Museum, London) and Professor Quentin Wheeler (Arizona State University) asked a wide range of scientists around the world to write a letter to Linnaeus describing his impact on natural science today. The result is a beautiful book that incorporates more than 60 letters, interwoven with several from Linnaeus' own correspondence. Letters to Linnaeus includes insights from scientists engaged in a range of disciplines including E.O. Wilson (Pulitzer Prize-winning biologist); Richard Fortey (Author of Dry Store Room No. 1); Sir Peter Crane (Former Director of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and now John and Marion Sullivan University Professor at the University of Chicago); Norman I. Platnick (Bonnet Award-winning arachnologist of the American Museum of Natural History) and Hugh Downs (American broadcaster and former anchor of 20/20).
In their varied, entertaining and informative correspondence, individual authors congratulate Linnaeus on his system of binomial scientific naming and its continued application today. Richard Fortey writes `The animals I studied for more than thirty years, trilobites, now have more than 5,000 genera. I think you might have known them all under only one name: Entomostracites. Such is progress. But your binomial method continues to work even amidst this apparently endless profusion. Its joy is the apparent simplicity of your scheme, with its capacity to accommodate all the species, past and present, thanks to the flexibility of language.'
Other authors reflect on the expansion on the new ideas, techniques and initiatives which have shaped science in the intervening 250 years and note that there is still much work to do to achieve Linnaeus' original aim of allocating a name to every species on Earth. In his letter to Linnaeus, E.O. Wilson writes `This is a task which, in spite of centuries of effort already devoted to it, seems today scarcely begun. Today, almost 250 years later, we still have discovered only as few as 10 per cent of the species of organisms living on Earth. Most kinds of flowering plants and birds have been discovered, but our knowledge of insects and other small invertebrates, of fungi, and bacteria and other microorganisms is shockingly incomplete. On the order of 10,000 species of bacteria are known to science, but 5,000 to 6,000 are found in a handful of fertile soil, almost all unknown to science, and some four million are estimated to live in a ton of soil. As far as our knowledge of them goes, they might as well be on Mars.'