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Joseph Banks [Paperback]

Patrick O'Brian
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 16.99
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Book Description

28 Nov 1997

Sir Joseph Banks, botanist, explorer, President of the Royal Society and one of Australia's founding fathers, was among the most influential figures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. As a young man he accompanied Captain Cook on his voyage of discovery to Australia, in later years he was instrumental in establishing Kew Gardens as the greatest botanical centre in the world and he knew just about everybody who mattered in the scientific circles of the time.

Patrick O'Brian's masterly biography draws on much hitherto unpublished material. Far from being the colossus of science traditionally imagined, Joseph Banks emerges here as a warm-hearted enthusiast whose legacy survives not only in the record of his botanizing in the South Seas but in the development of the Australian continent and in the tenor and tradition of subsequent scientific inquiry.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Press; New Ed edition (28 Nov 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860464068
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860464065
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.6 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,910 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

Devotees of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels will know already the author's total immersion into the social, political, scientific and naval worlds of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The life of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820), naturalist, botanist and explorer who sailed with Captain Cook to the South Seas, has long been one of O'Brian's primary resources; so it is only fitting that he should also be Banks's biographer. Any other writer might have produced a worthy study of the scientist; O'Brian provides an affectionate account of the man, as well as illuminating with seemingly effortless erudition Banks's discoveries and those of his contemporaries. Encompassing as it does all of O'Brian's polymath fascinations, the only remarkable thing about this book is that he did not write it sooner. The novelist's eye for detail, familiar from the naval stories, is evident here (when Banks sails for Newfoundland in 1766 we learn, as a matter of course, that on April 22 the wind from Plymouth was east-north-east) as is his absorbing and witty prose style. Drawing extensively on Banks's letters and journals, the author also has to hand any number of illuminating references, from Admiralty records and proceedings of the Royal Society to the diaries of Fanny Burney and Mrs Thrale. From all these sources, as well as from his own empathy for the subject, O'Brian is able to paint a vivid portrait of an extraordinary man and his equally extraordinary discoveries. --Mark Walker

Review

"O'Brian has done the reading public a service by unwrapping so elegantly and wittily a great man previously known only to specialists and academics. The book is a crackerjack" (Michael Fathers Independent)

"An absorbing finely-written overview... of a major figure in the history of natural science" (Los Angeles Times)

"Patrick O'Brian's leisurely and witty biography brings this 'genuine' Englishman fully to life... Banks epitomises the intrepid Englishman abroad... the prototype of the scientist dispassionately investigating all that befell him" (London Magazine)

"O'Brian reveals not only a well-researched understanding of his subject, but also an unabashed liking for him... Certainly any reader of this excellent book will close its final pages with a similar affection for Banks" (Michael Dirda Smithsonian)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This book is somewhat heavier going than O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, especially when he quotes verbatim from the original sources, but the story is fascinating. I had been unaware of his connection to Linnaeus, why Cape Solander on the southern edge of Botany Bay had a Scandinavian name, how Captain Cook really discovered the Great Barrier Reef, how Kew Gardens were originally set up, and so on. There is an interesting discussion of "Mad King George's sheep", and the fact the Banks completely missed the future significance of the merino for Australia. I also learnt that Botany Bay was originally better known as Stingray Bay, and discovered how New South Wales (initially New Wales) acquired its name, something I had often asked Sydneysiders but that nobody seems to know. Captain Cook gave it this name as they rounded Cape York into the Torres Strait. One can't help but wish that Banks had sailed with Cook on his later voyages. The politicking over the Resolution is like much scientific politics in our own day, and the same can be said for Banks's middle-aged corpulence. The observations on both the American and French revolutions are interesting, together with the academic dialogue that was maintained through both. All in all, this is an excellent book, and it is highly to be recommended.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great book, terrible typography 13 Nov 2011
Verified Purchase
Other people have reviwed the content of Patrick O'Brian's excellent biography, but I feel I must warn readers about some legibility issues.

To save money, the publisher has re-photographed pages from a larger edition and reduced them it to fit on a smaller, narrower page format. This means that not only is the print uncomfortably small, but the type has lost its sharpness. Added to this, O'Brian has quoted extensively from Banks' own writings, and these excerpts - sometimes several pages long - are in a smaller typeface, which of course is now even more minuscule thanks to the photoreduction.

It's a pity that a fine book has been turned into such an uncomfortable read. It seems that the publisher is cashing in on the resurgence of O'Brians' popularity by knocking out this edition cheaply and slapping a whopping 16.99 cover price on it. Shame on you, Harvill Press.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joseph Banks by Patrick O'Brian 5 Mar 2009
By Nan
Verified Purchase
So well written - it holds your attention until you finish the last page. Gives an interesting insight into how this aristocratic lived the life of luxury, but failing Eton etc how he then devoted himself to botany. He gave so much of himself to botany and travelling and we have fascinating accounts of new plants etc.from long sea voyages around the world and such awful conditions on board.It's interesting to learn just how much we owe to him.
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