The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession
One of the best written and organized books that I have read in quite some years. What could be a pretty esoteric topic becomes a wonderfully interesting and germane story. To some extent it reminds me of Kurlansky's Cod although this work is even better written.
The book comes alive because the author captures so well the personalities of the people involved. Bartram and Collinson are so human. And their problems in keeping up a relationship at such a distance is beautifully and sypathetically portrayed. Linnaeus is wonderfully and humanly portrayed. What a genius, what a jerk! Reminds me to some extent of Richard Wagner, one of my favorite composers, but one of the most
egotistical and sometimes downright nasty people that one is likely to
meet. The same sort of self-aggrandizing individual as Linnaeus. Banks, who, at first, seems (and evidently was) completely heartless, becomes more humane as he ages. And I love the irascible Miller who is a genius in his own way and knows best about everything (which often he does), but can be irritating to those with less knowledge and ability, and too dogmatic to see the virtue of Linnaeus' system. And the charming Solander, who has the guts to abandon Linnaeus, is amusing as the scholar and drawing room raconteur (some great scenes when Banks saves his life and they enjoy the splendors--and women--of Tahiti together).
I love the way the author naturally weaves into the story the personalities and events of the day--Benjamin Franklin, Lord Petre, James Cook, William Bligh; the American Revolution, the war with France, the colonial ambitions of the major nation players. What a treat to see history written as it should be, fascinatingly and compellingly.
The writing flows so well, the ideas are so well organized, and the pictures that Ms. Wulf paints are so vivid, that it all seems so effortless. However, after reading the acknowledgments and bibliography, I know that is not the case. I can only marvel at what Ms. Wulf has achieved. What a fascinating topic, marvelously presented!!!