The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist
From the author of Bird Sense, a biography of Francis Willughby, the man who pulled the study of birds out of the dark ages and formed the foundations of modern ornithology.
Francis Willughby lived and thrived in the midst of the rapidly accelerating scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Traveling with his Cambridge tutor John Ray, they decided to overhaul the whole of natural history by imposing order on its messiness and complexity. It was exhilarating, exacting, and exhausting work. Yet before their first book, Ornithology, could be completed, Willughby died in 1672. Since then, Ray’s reputation has grown, obscuring that of his collaborator. Now, for the first time, Willughby’s story and genius are given the attention they deserve.
In his too-short life, Francis Willughby helped found the Royal Society, differentiated birds through identification of their distinguishing features, and asked questions that were, in some cases, centuries ahead of their time. His discoveries and his approach to his work continue to be relevant–and revelatory–oday. Tim Birkhead describes and celebrates how Willughby’s endeavors set a standard for the way birds–and indeed the whole of natural history–should be studied. Rich with glorious detail, The Wonderful Mr Willughby is at once a fascinating insight into a thrilling period of scientific history and an authoritative, lively biography of one of its legendary pioneers.