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The Platypus and the Mermaid

I’m about halfway through Harriet Ritvo’s The Platypus and the Mermaid, a book recommended to me by Chris Locke‘s sister Liz. It’s about the 19th Century’s obsession with taxonomies, and it’s staggeringly good. Ritvo is one of those authors whose breadth of knowledge and grasp of details seems impossible. She shows how naturalists and culture struggled with the concept of species, with the naturalness or artificiality of order, with whether order is simple or complx, with the discovery of a continent’s worth of new animals (kangaroos looked a lot like greyhounds) by not only following the scientific debate but by attending to how children’s guides to animals explained themselves. And she’s a good writer to boot. Thanks, Liz! [Technorati tags: ]

2 Responses to “The Platypus and the Mermaid”

  1. The title of Ritvo’s book had me reaching over to take another look at Umberto Eco’s Kant and the Platypus: Essays on Language and Cognition, that has some tangential offerings on the program you’ve undertaken. The Italian version is more appealing as a book and the English-language paperback is more accessible.

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