376 pages, Col plates
Searching for Order traces the search for order in the natural world, a search that for hundreds of years occupied some of the most brilliant minds in Europe. Redefining man's relationship with nature was an important feature of the Renaissance. But in a world full of plagues and poisons, there was also a practical need to name and recognise different plants: most medicines were made from plant extracts.
Anna Pavord takes us on a thrilling adventure into botanical history, travelling from Athens in the third century BC, through Constantinople, Venice, the medical school at Salerno to the universities of Pisa and Padua. The journey, traced here for the first time, involves the culture of Islam, the first expeditions to the Indies and the first settlers in the New World.
In Athens, Aristotle's pupil, Theophrastus, is the first man ever to write a book about plants. What should these things properly be called, he asks. How can we sort and order them? The debate continues still, two thousand years later. Gradually, over a long period in Europe, plants assumed identities and acquired names. Artists painted the first pictures of them. Plants acquired the two-part names that show how they are related to other plants. But who began all this work, and how was it done? Searching for Order gives a compelling insight into a world full of intrigue and intensely competitive egos.
'A history of the naming of plants. Part treasure hunt, part travel guide and occasional biography, this book doesn't disappoint' Sunday Times 'Her celebration of scholar-botanists is thrillingly told, guiding us from the ground-breaking work of the ancient philosopher Theofrastus to the seventeenth-century plantsman John Ray, who established botany as a scientific discipline' Sunday Telegraph 'Pavord's epic account of the botanical pioneers who named and classified plants before the over-esteemed Linnaeus is a fabulously interesting read' Independent '[A] beautifully written, gloriously illustrated history of how brilliant men from the days of Aristotle attempted to classify the world's plants. Here are enough upstagings and rivalries for 100 novels and endless fascinating facts' Jilly Cooper, Daily Telegraph Books of the Year
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