The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist

Bloomsbury Pr. Jul. 2018. 368p. illus. photos. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781408878484. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781408878507. SCI
Birkhead (behavior, evolution, Univ. of Sheffield; Bird Sense) creates a thoroughly researched and documented work concerning an obscure 17th-century naturalist who pioneered the modern taxonomic method of classifying animals by their physical characteristics in his Ornithologiae libri tres (1676). In addition to birds, Francis Willughby (1635–72) also studied fish and insects and was a Fellow of the Royal Society. His accomplished mentor and friend John Ray (1627–1705) completed Ornithologiae. Birkhead details how Willughby traveled extensively with Ray and other scientists, vividly capturing their European routes with maps and black-and-white illustrations. A helpful appendix has thumbnail sketches of "principal players in Willughby's life," such as philosopher René Descartes, physician William Harvey, scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, botanist Carl Linnaeus, and administrator Samuel Pepys. Willughby and Ray laid some of the groundwork for the system of nature later developed by Linnaeus.
VERDICT In spite of Willughby's short life, Birkhead ably constructs a full time line of his influence on modern science. For readers, especially ornithologists, with deep interests in natural history and the history of science.
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