Cover Image: What Linnaeus Saw

What Linnaeus Saw

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Member Reviews

I appreciated this delightfully readable, informative biography of Linnaeus so much that I'm adding it to my high school biology curriculum.
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I was very interested in the topic of this novel. I teach 5th grade science, and this is a topic we study. The students are always very interested in finding out about the categories that animals are divided into. I chose this book so that I could read more about Linneaus, I thought that the idea was very interesting, but the writing seemed kind of jumbled up and hard to follow. In the digital format, it was difficult to distinguish between the text and the text under a caption that I could not see. Would be interested in reading a final copy of this book.
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What Linnaeus Saw: A Scientist’s Quest to Name and Catalog Every Living Thing by Karen Magnusson Bell is an engaging YA biography that does a nice job of placing Linnaeus in scientific, historic, and cultural context.  Bell explains the chaos that permeated the naturist world in terms of naming and identifying plants and animals, and shows how Linnaeus methodically and over more years than probably most think, shepherded the field into a more coherent and cohesive, as well as precise, discipline.

A story of taxonomy and categorization, especially one centered on a lot of long Latin names could have been deadly dull, but Bell does a good job of giving Linnaeus a sense of personality as well as sharing enough of his personal adventures/explorations to mitigate any such concern. Some of these are both informative and entertaining, as when she discusses how he wrestled with all the falsely claimed (some intentional, some not) “animals” out in the world, such as the “Seven-Headed Hydra of Hamburg.  Others gain heightened interest from their controversial nature, as for instance how he decided where to place human in his classification (even considering them “animals” was controversial enough for some). 

One of the strongest aspects of Bell’s book is how science is shown as a perpetual work in progress, as we see Linnaeus spending decades building upon his work, correcting previous mistakes, and making new ones. The march is always forward but never entirely so—it comes with lots of false detours and backward slides and dead ends and we see all of that here. In that same vein, one of my favorite sections was toward the end when Bell shows how Linnaeus inspired and often personally directed younger scientists, students of his, as they went out into the wide world and expanded/corrected his findings (many risking their lives to do so and some giving their lives).

One person’s “Golden Age of Exploration” of course is another person’s “Hell of Imperialism/Colonialism” and Bell doesn’t shy away from pointing this out, sometimes broadly and sometimes specifically, as when the book points to how during Linnaeus’ journeys amongst the Sami he “showed great sympathy . . . yet at other times his journal entries sounded patronizing and condescending . . . he never identified by name any of the Sami people who helped him.”  Somewhat similarly, Bell makes sure to make evident the contributions of women to the field as well, such as Jane Colden, “America’s first female botanist” or Lady Anne Monson.

What Linnaeus Saw moves along smoothly and quickly and always clearly. I’ll also note that it appears to be liberally enhanced by a multitude of images which unfortunately my advance copy did not show. I imagine based on their titles and associated text however that they add greatly to the reading experience.
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If you’ve ever wondered why living things have the names they have, this book will answer your question. In fact, I would have enjoyed biology class in high school a lot more if I could have read this book first. 

During the period of great scientific exploration and interest (in the 18th century), scientists, collectors, and newly formed scientific societies had one common difficulty. Keeping track of and naming the myriad samples they collected of plants, animals, rocks, and minerals. 

As a young boy, Carl Linnaeus hated school, did poorly in his Latin class, and had no desire to follow in his father’s footsteps as a clergyman. Instead, the natural world fascinated him. Going against his family’s wishes, he studied botany and physiology, hoping to one day earn a living as a physician. His knack for organization, enthusiasm for his subject, and ability to ask the right kinds of questions earned him influential mentors and friends all over Europe. 

His passion for understanding nature and identifying relationships between different species led him to create a modern form of classification for all things—one that we still use as our framework for talking about nature to this day.

Although Linnaeus struggled in school (his reputation as a rule-breaker sometimes made school difficult for him), his passion for organizing what he saw turned him into a rule-maker. 

Young readers will relate to the struggles of someone who doesn’t do well in traditional schools. The publishers list the interest level as 5th-12th grade. The reading level seems high for a typical 5th-grade student.

This book would make the perfect gift for any science aficionado—regardless of age.
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Thank you Norton Young Readers for the eARC of What Linnaeus Saw.  As a biology student and then as a biology teacher, I was familiar with Linnaean taxonomy, but not the man himself. 
I loved all of the biographical information about Linnaeus as well as the historical context of how he came to study classification of living things. 
I’d definitely recommend What Linnaeus Saw to anyone interested in the history of biology!
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Thank you for this advance review copy of 'What Carl Linnaeus Saw'. This was a detailed, accessible and interesting explanation of Linnaeus' work.

I thought the background detail of Linnaeus' home and family life was excellent as a way of contextualising his scientific research. Within the classroom, this would certainly help bring him to life for students and help them understand the importance of his findings.

The author's style is lively and highly accessible without talking down to a younger audience. Unfortunately, due to reading an uncorrected proofon a Kindle, I wasn't able to see the supporting illustrations and diagrams and so am not able to comment on them.

I would certainly consider purchasing this title for the classroom.
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