The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest
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The Collector: David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  136 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Jack Nisbet first told the story of British explorer David Thompson, who mapped the Columbia River, in his acclaimed book Sources of the River, which set the standard for research and narrative biography for the region. Now Nisbet turns his attention to David Douglas, the premier botanical explorer in the Pacific Northwest and throughout other areas of western North Americ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published September 1st 2009 by Sasquatch Books (first published January 1st 2009)
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Community Reviews

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Nicole
Botany is not a field that I would ever have said was particularly interesting. I've never been driven to pick up a book on it or study it in more than the cursory way required in elementary school or general biology classes, but this book provides an interesting view of its importance in the establishment of modern science, as well as civilizations quest to place themselves in a knowable and established world. The story itself can be a bit dry a times, but Nisbet does an amazing job of summariz...more
Nancy
Many common plants in the Pacific northwest were first described by David Douglas. You can't look out a window here without seeing Douglas fir and Douglas spirea. I've wondered what the area was like when Douglas first came though. This book gives a taste of what Douglas experienced. An entry in his journal about a pack rat attempting to steal his inkstand rang especially true. Unfortunately not all of Douglas's journals survived so the material for the book I'd really like to read doesn't exist...more
Joanna
It's an interesting read, especially since I've been to some of the places where David Douglas collected seeds, etc. The writing is reasonably well done, if a bit quaint at times. At first I thought the book must have been written quite a while ago, as the author referred on several occasions, to women who were of "mixed blood." No similar references have yet been made about any of the men in the book. This did not detract sufficiently from the overall quality of the writing to encourage me to p...more
Edward
I had reservations when I started this book. How interesting could a biography of an early 19th century plant collector be? But I found the book fascinating, not for the plant specimens that Douglas carefully collected and sent home to the London Horticultural Society; rather for the adventures that Douglas underwent in the Pacific Northwest, an area that he visited barely twenty years after the Lewis and Clark expedition.

I began reading the book while recovering from surgery in the hospital. Ob...more
Joel
Really liked this book. Douglas is a fascinating character and this book brings alive his encounters with NW landscapes, plants and animals and his interactions with the native peoples and early settlers.
Carolyn
The subject here is the energetic young Englishman for whom the Douglas fir is named. He traveled in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and a bit of South America during his trips around the Horn, collecting plants and animals as he went. His travels were during the years about halfway between Lewis & Clark and Darwin. I enjoyed reading about his relationships with the trappers, fur traders, soldiers, and Indians; my eyes glazed over sometimes over the long lists of flora and fauna, but amateur...more
Celeste
Feb 21, 2011 Celeste rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the history or nature of the Pacific Northwest
Shelves: bio, non-fiction
Biography of Scottish naturalist David Douglas, written in a rather dry, journalistic style. No editorializing, just a straightforward account of his exciting, but too-short life and his significant contributions to botany. Mostly culled from his surviving journals (sadly his journal of his second trip to the Northwest did not survive) and many letters to his sponsors back in England. The snapshot of the region in the 1820s was just as fascinating as the biography - raging rivers, impassible wil...more
Sherri
Imagine having a tree named after you. David Douglas did. In fact, there are over eighty species of plant and animal from the worlds of flora and fauna with douglasii in their scientific name. The tree named after him? None other than than the Douglas Fir.

Douglas spent several years clambering around the Northwest territories and up in British Columbia approximately 20 years after Lewis and Clark made their historic trek into what is now the states of Oregon and Washington. As canoes carried his...more
Wendy Feltham
Continuing my reading about the Pacific Northwest, I was attracted to this book, which won an award from the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association. The Douglas Fir, the Douglas Iris, and the Douglas Squirrel are named for David Douglas, along with dozens of other species. He collected and named over 500 new species for the Royal Horticultural Society, bringing many samples back to England to be used in gardens. Douglas was a fascinating man, incredibly energetic and curious, as he traveled o...more
Diane
The best word I can think of to describe my reaction to The Collector is delight. THe Collector is the story of David Douglas' travels and work, and I am familiar with most of the places in the Pacific Northwest that he visited. I have also begun to learn plants and it was a delight for me to see the plants described by Douglas. An example of what I found fun: Douglas had attended lectures in Scotland with medical students studying botany. On his long voyage to the Pacific Northwest in about 182...more
Don Jacobson
The collector Nisbet is writing about is Davis Douglas, the naturalist who did pioneering biological collecting in the American west, a few years after Lewis & Clark made their famous trek. Nisbet is a collector aw well. He cobbled together letters and a fragments from Douglas's journals to paint a vivid picture of the hardships and tragic death of the collector. Highly recommended.

Holly
I saw this book on my library's new arrivals shelf by the checkout desk and grabbed it on a whim, figuring I'd probably just flip through it. How wrong I was! It was quite engaging. Amazing all the ordeals he went through and the various personalities that played off of each other, all in the name of plants and science and discovery. Early on you learn that he didn't live to be an old man but you're not certain how old he was when he died so part of what kept me reading was wanting to find out H...more
Joan
Interesting for someone who likes the flora, fauna and history of the Northwest. Probably not a general interest book. The best part is that it's a peek into the way trappers, voyagers, Indians lived in the 1820s.
Steve Howes
I always thought it would be nice to see what the Northwest was like prior to settlement. After reading this account of David Douglas's travels and other adventures in the 1820's, I now have a fair idea of what things were like. It seems strange to hear about condors in the Columbia Gorge, shooting and eating eagles, curlews, and other birds, and navigating a free-flowing Columbia in canoes. Douglas's primary purpose in visiting the Northwest was to collect plant specimens for the Royal Horticul...more
Carol Wakefield
I read this in bits and pieces alternating with other books. David douglases collecting expeditions in the western u.s. and Hawaii were interesting enough that i wanted to complete the book but the excerpts from journals and letters the author had to draw upon we're repetitive and a bit dry. Douglases accomplishments were stunning and the hardships he underwent to botanize the area were impressive. as a native of that area of the u.s. I enjoyed reading about early days of travel in familiar plac...more
Susie
Jun 22, 2014 Susie is currently reading it
My 2014 Ladies Summer Reading Tea book from Colleen Shoemaker - 2770 SW Rutland Terr
Kathy
This might be of interest to you if you are a botanist or horticulturist. Douglas, whom Douglas Fir is named after, certainly contributed hugely to both fields during the early 1800's (1823-1834), but this biography is mostly a paraphrased version of Douglas's journals. Read the original stuff instead. The main thing you would miss is the end-tale, which may be the most interesting part of this book. Douglas wouldn't have been able to write about his own demise falling into a huge pit trap in Ha...more
Jon Bell
A detailed history of David Douglas's explorations and identifications of the Pacific Northwest. Interesting read for anyone looking to get into some serious details about Douglas's daily life and collections during his time in the great Northwest. Reads a lot like an expanded journal of the collector. Not being familiar with how this scientist's life ended, the end of the book threw me for a huge loop but also added the most unexpected and exciting bit to the whole book. Recommended to anyone w...more
Carlotta
David Douglas collected and cataloged Pacific Northwest plants for Britain and he lead an interesting life and died a mysterious death. Unfortunately this big book written by Jack Nisbet does not do David Douglas' life story justice. This book was so poorly written at time I wanted to throw it in the lake [ I was reading it while camping]! I was so frustrated when Nisbet failed to tell me the rest of the story or just left me hanging with unexplained situations. Douglas was amazing, this book is...more
Caty Clifton
Excellent historical account of the intrepid scot botanist,well researched account of his 10 years of travel, collecting, measuring and recording natural history mainly aimed at collecting interesting plants to send back to his sponsors at the London horticultural society. For northwesterners, our familiar places, plants and creatures first described by the young european. I have seen Brown's peony in the same general locale...hiking in David Douglas' footsteps. Well done Jack!
Dan Ward
If you live in the Northwest, love plants, enjoy history or are interested in exploring new things then this book is for you. Nisbet does a great job of letting you get to know Douglas and his quirks. The book isn't light reading and requires some investment of time to get through but it is worth the effort. For those of us that live in the Northwest and enjoy the majesty of the 'Doug' fir it is great to get to know the man who it is named after. Very interesting read.
Ryan
Spend any time in the Northwest and one thing you quickly notice is that the name Douglas appears everywhere....from Douglas fir to Douglas squirrel to David Douglas High School. I have long known of the naturalist David Douglas but never knew his story. This is a great book about David Douglas, his adventures in the northwest in the early 1800s, and how he came to discover and name a large portion of the plant and animal species in the northwest.
M. Kelly
I'd call it a must-read for any naturalist in the western US. If I still lived in the Columbia River region I'd love to go to some of David Douglas' collecting sites and compare what I find to what he found. It was also very interesting to read about the early spread of exotic species facilitated by collectors like Douglas (oops). The only problem I had with the book was that I constantly felt like a lazy wimp compared to Douglas.
Lyra
This is one by an author who lives near my old home in north east washington. I wasn't sure what I'd think of it - sometimes history's like this aren't a thrill a minute. But turned out I was totally absorbed by the story of David Douglas (doug fir's namesake), traveling around familiar areas of the pacific northwest in the mid 1800's collecting plants and observing every aspect of natural history.
Wanda
Living in the Northwest, it was very interesting to read about Douglas' explorations and adventures in places I have been. It was almost unbelievable the ground he covered and the modes of transportation that took him there. His dedication as a naturalist was also remarkable. It seemed to me tho, that the author was not especially fond of his subject, which made for an odd read at times.
Daniel Stewart
I wouldn't recommend this book for everyone. As a native plant enthusiast I have long been intrigued with the early European explorers who came to the new world and found themselves overwhelmed by the candy-store of new species everywhere. So for my interests, this book was fantastic. But for others who don't have interests in local history or botany this may not be up your alley.
Adam Hobbins
Nisbet basically takes Douglas's journals and turns them in to a narrative. This works well for most of the book, though at times it can be trying reading "Then he found this plant, then he found this plant" and on and on. Despite that, it was fun reading so much about the history of the NW in the 1800s. Also, very interesting ending, not what I was expecting.
David Kessler
Douglas' travels up the Columbia R and into the Inland Empire were not only about collecting for Hooker and the museum back in England but a cultural ride in 1827-1828. He identified around 500 plants from the east and westside of the Cascades and up into the Okanogan territory. The forts set up by the HBC helped him immensely. Great story by Nisbet.
Judy
Sep 22, 2010 Judy rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Judy by: Emily
This was an entirely readable bio of a Scotsman who came the Northwest to collect specimens and seeds of plants unique to the area for the British Horticultural Society. The man and his experiences trekking through the wilderness in the mid-19th century were fascinating, especially since I read it while driving through these areas in my rental car!
Babs
Engaging account of Scottish naturalist David Douglas collecting adventures. Two decades after Lewis and Clark traversed the Columbia River and Cape Disappointment, Douglas started his botanical quest in the Northwest. Such an amazing legacy with over 80 species of flora and fauna scientifically named in his honor.

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Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across North America Visible Bones: Journeys Across Time in the Columbia River Country David Douglas, a Naturalist at Work: An Illustrated Exploration Across Two Centuries in the Pacific Northwest The Mapmaker's Eye: David Thompson on the Columbia Plateau Purple Flat Top: In Pursuit of a Place

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