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Nature and Nation

Lisbet Koerner

ISBN 9780674005655

Publication date: 04/16/2001

Drawing on letters, poems, notebooks, and secret diaries, Lisbet Koerner tells the moving story of one of the most famous naturalists who ever lived, the Swedish-born botanist and systematizer, Carl Linnaeus. The first scholarly biography of this great Enlightenment scientist in almost one hundred years, Linnaeus also recounts for the first time Linnaeus' grand and bizarre economic projects: to "teach" tea, saffron, and rice to grow on the Arctic tundra and to domesticate buffaloes, guinea pigs, and elks as Swedish farm animals.

Linnaeus hoped to reproduce the economy of empire and colony within the borders of his family home by growing cash crops in Northern Europe. Koerner shows us the often surprising ways he embarked on this project. Her narrative goes against the grain of Linnaean scholarship old and new by analyzing not how modern Linnaeus was, but how he understood science in his time. At the same time, his attempts to organize a state economy according to principles of science prefigured an idea that has become one of the defining features of modernity. Meticulously researched, and based on archival data, Linnaeus will be of compelling interest to historians of the Enlightenment, historians of economics, and historians of science. But this engaging, often funny, and sometimes tragic portrait of a great man will be valued by general readers as well.


  • [Koerner’s] Linnaeus is not the typical one of scholarship and legend. And in recovering him, she has done something few do. She has shown a way in which the eighteenth century and its ‘enlightened’ projects grew out of the seventeenth century and its ‘baroque’ ones… The text is written with wit and irony… The prose is spare, precise, calm and repays rereading. It is, indeed, Linnaean in spirit… By reflecting him in so many personae—‘as a son and student, traveler, physician, botanist, economist, theologian, teacher, husband and father’—Linnaeus: Nature and Nation brings ‘the flower king’ back to life… Thanks to Koerner, Linnaeus has become one of my favorite eighteenth-century figures.

    —William Clark, Times Literary Supplement


  • Lisbet Koerner is an associate of the Department of the History of Science, Harvard University.

Book Details

  • 298 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press