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Koerner's animosity undercuts the readerly trust on which even the most thoroughly footnoted work of scholarship ultimately depends. Why the dislike? A case could be made that Linnaeus's energetic carriage of biota across the seams of Pangaea makes him the patron devil of ecological invasion, a problem that ranks with loss of habitat as a major destroyer of natural diversity.

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But Koerner doesn't seem motivated by a love of nature. She disapproves of the Great Taxonomist, the man who tried to subsume all life into a nonarbitrary system of classification: Haven't too many people been pushed to the margins by culturally specific labels masquerading as objective truth? Then too, "Linnaeus never distinguished the moral from the natural," she objects.

Living by his moral lights, Linnaeus confounded his friends by never refusing alms to beggars who frequented the campus at Uppsala during Sweden's repeated famines.


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If sometimes he can be shown to have had an eye on the main chance, the degree of calculation, self-promotion, and ambition he displayed is not unusual in a family man with mouths to feed--or in a thinker who saw clearly, at a young age, the shape of his potential contribution to human knowledge.

Throughout his life, Linnaeus was pious but far from conventional: He taught his dog to leave church during sermons so that he could follow along in sham concern. His home was unusual by any measure. As Koerner writes: In Linnaeus's house parrots and monkeys played among stuffed animals, potted plants, insect specimens, mineral samples, scientific instruments, and herbaria sheets.

Linnaeus Nature And Nation:

The walls of his rooms disappeared behind tangled branches--some thirty species of songbirds nested in them. Using fish-glue, Linnaeus pasted botanic prints as wallpaper. He also hung on the walls framed portrait engravings of botanists, sheets of paper with handwritten botanic annotations, and pressed plants. He covered the floors with old manuscript pages to catch droppings and believed that one female monkey, whom he called by name, could speak a few simple words. His relationship with her was the foundation of his belief that humans were properly classified as primates, perhaps even somehow co-related.

Toward the end of his life, in fact, he suspected the mutability of species. If this Linnaeus charms, it's all the more remarkable that this, too, is a Linnaeus Koerner shows us. Unfortunately, she can't forgive him for not being postmodern. Again and again we see her shake her head: The pious old taxonomist just didn't get it. And yet Linnaeus remains a worthy ancestor whose ideas still illuminate the relationship between the world of nature and the world of profit and loss.

We've since learned sometimes to our sorrow that nature changes, but the rest of the idea is admirably cogent. These days, economy too often trumps ecology, giving us species driven to extinction, ecosystems simplified to radical instability, and markets that can't include the bids of future humans let alone the interests of nonhumans when settling the fate of the planet.

If we were to reverse the relation--subordinate economics to ecology--the supposedly "dismal" science might be forced to abandon its radically optimismic assumptions that no change is ever permanent and economic activity cannot have any effect on its milieu. Ending those particular denials seems a good idea if we're to constrain production within appropriate biological limits before all the rain forests are gone.

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Nature’s Nation: Making spaces for mega fauna in late 20th century India

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Koerner , Lisbet. Linnaeus: Nature and Nation. Kroneberg , Clemens and Wimmer , Andreas.