Every Living Thing: Man's Obsessive Quest to Catalog Life, from Nanobacteria to New Monkeys
Biologists and laypeople alike have repeatedly claimed victory over life. A thousand years ago we thought we knew almost everything; a hundred years ago, too. But even today, Rob Dunn argues, discoveries we can't yet imagine still await.
In a series of vivid portraits of single-minded scientists, Dunn traces the history of human discovery, from the establishment of classification in the eighteenth century to today's attempts to find life in space. The narrative telescopes from a scientist's attempt to find one single thing (a rare ant-emulating beetle species) to another scientist's attempt to find everything in a small patch of jungle in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With poetry and humor, Dunn reminds readers how tough and exhilarating it is to study the natural world, and why it matters.
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I wanted to see what lurked between the far-off trees, where a little bird seemed
to call out my name.* One floor above us, in the same hotel, lived Sarah
Osterhoudt, then working for the New York Botanical Garden. Sarah introduced
us to the Confederation of Indigenous People of Bolivia (CIDOB). The members
of CIDOB wanted someone to go and work in the indigenous communities deep
in the forest to document local knowledge. Within a few weeks, we were packing
our bags to ...
Nervous about the age, but more specifically about the dangling bits of metal
below the engine, I asked the pilot how the plane was doing. “Great,” he offered, “
we bought it from the Summer Linguistics Institute and we haven't had to do
anything to it since.” That seemed well enough, except that, as Monica yelled to
me over the sound of the motor, “the Summer Linguistics Institute got kicked out
of Bolivia twenty years ago.” Too late. We were off, a thirty-year-old clunker of a
plane, our ...
At least they seemed to be, until we realized we had spent several days saying “
penis” instead of “eat.” Each morning we went out to learn with a local expert. To
our deep pleasure, there was much to see. We went out with several such men,
but came to depend on one, Felipe, who was most willing to be our guide. Felipe
had some plants he wanted to look for anyway (miracle sex plants, we would
later learn, that were very popular and therefore hard to find nearby), so it was
useful for ...
... seemed, at least in terms of the ants, unknown to Felipe as well. Of the few
hundred ant species around Cavinas, Felipe had names for perhaps forty, about
the same number that non indigenous peoples of more urban parts of the
Amazon can name. It was, no doubt, more than the average scientist not
specializing in ants might name, but not astounding. Either the Cavineņo had
chosen not to name the ants, or the names had been lost to time. They did, it
would later turn out, know ...
Some seemed pure fiction (the little men in the termite mounds), but with other
stories, it was harder to know. One late night we heard the story of the giant
monkeys. As the children walked around burning incense to ward off mosquitoes,
one of the older men said, “Up in the hills are giant monkeys, marimonos [spider
monkeys] the size of a man. My father talked about them. They are there, or used
to be. I know of it. Sometimes at night, they come into the village. I hear them
scare the ...
What people are saying - Write a review
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - kaitanya64 - LibraryThing
This book is a readable retracing of the classification of life from the Enlightenment to the present. The author does not attempt to be exhaustive, but focuses on crucial characters and controversies ... Read full review
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - satyridae - LibraryThing
I really enjoyed this book, which looks at scientists through the ages, many of whom are more than a little bit dotty. Especially Linnaeus, of course. I learned a lot about archaea and nanobacteria ... Read full review