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The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  49 ratings  ·  10 reviews
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
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published July 10th 2018 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published 2018)
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Andrew Howdle
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gilbert White's famous A Natural History is peppered with references to the works of Ray; again and again he defers to Ray's knowledge of birds. The co-author of Ray's work, Willughby, remains in the shadows. In this quest for the mysterious Willughby, Tim Birkhead, uncovers the synergistic connection between Ray and Willughby who were early members and shapers of The Royal Society.

In essence, this book is a survey of science after the Restoration, a period which saw a decline in scientific spon
Jim Folger
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was ok
"Wonderful" is a stretch in describing Francis Willughby.
This was a man who was so wealthy he never had to work a day in his life. Thus spared the rigors of working for a living, he was able to indulge his innate curiosity about the natural world, specially birds, insects and fishes.
He traveled Europe and recorded his observations, dissecting birds to discover more about them, and we also offered insights on what birds were best to eat (the smaller songbirds).
The author provides several referen
Danielle Clode
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not so much a biography of one man, as a grand tour of Europe at the dawn of modern science. The naturalist, Francis Willughby (1635-1672), lived his short but splendid life at a time when robins were thought to turn into redstarts, turnip seeds might grow into cabbages and caterpillars might hatch as either moths or flies. Fish and birds were known by a multitude of names, agreed upon, and carefully described, by few – while insects cycled through their busy lives almost entirely unstud ...more
Debbie Vignovic
Sep 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mr-mrs, reviews
If you haven't figured it out by now--I will pretty much read anything. This is the biography of Francis Willughby, the man who pulled the study of birds out of the dark ages and formed the foundation of modern ornithology. He lived in 17th century England--a thrilling period of scientific history. This was a dense information packed read and it took me a while to get to the end. Even so this was still my favorite Mr. out of the group--I was totally surprised to come to this conclusion but over ...more
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book, 2018, yuck
Book covers are like wine bottle labels. Both provide no indication of how good the thing inside is. I picked up this book from my Library. My eye caught the name “Willughby” which made me wonder if this was a novel inspired by Mr. Willoughby of Sense and Sensibility. Then I saw if was on Ornithology and decided it might be worth it.

It wasn’t. There are too many truly interesting books I am dying to read to get sidetracked by eye candy! This book was okay. It was really more a tale of life in t
Although this book bills itself as a biography of Francis Willughby as an ornithologist, it's more about his scientific partnership with fellow naturalist John Ray, their travels, and their efforts toward scientifically describing and categorizing the natural world around them, notably birds, fish and insects.

As an ornithologist himself, the author has a tendency to get a bit sidetracked with the minutiae of descriptions of various species. It's understandable, but not the most interesting for t
Aug 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature
This book made me realise that whilst I love birds, I care far more about the birds than I do about the people who categorised them. It was very well written and well researched, and I especially liked the eccentricities of the people who did this sort of stuff (and the things they missed, that we look back and think of as obvious!), and overall I enjoyed it. I have read other books by Tim Birkhead and found them a lot more interesting, so whilst this is a good book, it is not quite for me. I am ...more
Aug 29, 2018 rated it liked it
The biography of a 17th Century natural historian, Sir Francis Willughby. Born to a wealthy family, he was educated and encouraged to follow his passion of collecting and cataloguing birds, fish and insects. He died at 36 and left his legacy in the hands of his friend and scientific companion, John Ray, who published Willughby's work posthumously. Interesting, but sometimes gets lost in the detail.
Mar 05, 2020 rated it liked it
Infuriatingly interesting. Lots of interesting facts and a time and life that both intrigue but never really seem to come to life. Mildly infuriating style with at times an intrusive author's voice and square bracket mania (especially [sic]s) in source quotations.
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delightful biography of a 'past person' we can learn from. Fun read into a time we will never experience again.
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