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Naturalists at Sea

From Dampier to Darwin by Glyn Williams

By
10:08am, February 8, 2014

For centuries after Columbus, the flora and fauna of the New World remained a mystery to Europeans. But in the 1600s and 1700s, explorers began to visit and describe what were then considered remote corners of the Earth. Williams brings to life these naturalists who preceded Charles Darwin.

While others on the ships mapped the blank spots on their charts, the naturalists scrambled onshore and combed the waters to catalog all that lived.

The book meanders much as they did. Williams, a historian, starts with self-taught English­man William Dampier, who hopped a ship to Java at age 20 to begin a 13-year trip around the world. Dampier’s notes and drawings awoke European scientists in the late 1600s to species in Australia and many other exotic locales.

In 1767, French naturalist Philibert de Commerson set out on a six-year tour

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