We owe a debt of gratitude to the naturalists who described, experimented, collected, and gave us the means to understand the natural world. They came from all over the globe, from classical times to the end of the nineteenth century, when natural history changed from a mainly amateur pursuit to today’s specialized scientific profession.
Braving dangers—including storms, pirates, and disease—in pursuit of cataloging the natural world, pioneers such as Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin changed the course of science with their groundbreaking theories. This book includes many naturalists who are well known, such as the earliest great natural historian, Aristotle; Carl Linnaeus, the man who brought order to nature; the ornithologist and painter John James Audubon; and Georges Cuvier, who established the concept of extinction. Others are now given their rightful place: Antony van Leeuwenhoek, who made his own microscopes and discovered bacteria; and Mary Anning, “the princess of paleontology,” who had an amazing, self-taught talent for finding fossils.
Many of these people were great artists as well as scientists, and The Great Naturalists is illustrated with a selection of beautiful and precise paintings and drawings of birds, animals, fossils, fish, shells, and rocks from the unparalleled collections of the Natural History Museum, London.
Robert Huxley is head of collections in the department of botany at the Natural History Museum, London.