Jean's Reviews > Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

Chrysalis by Kim Todd
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

bookshelves: biography, history

Maria Sibylla Merian broke out of the mold of 17th-century women's "place" and she may have been the first ecologist. She studied plants and insects and their interactions and she combined art and science by her innovative illustrations. She was the first (so the author says) to create illustrations that combine plants and insects. She was endlessly curious, starting with a collection of silkworms when she was 13. The high point of her life was her two-year trip to Surinam (Dutch colony in South America), where she studied and collected insects and plants, many of them in the rain forests.

I have to give a caveat to this book by noting that the author had little to base this biography on because there is so little that Maria wrote (only 17 letters exist) and few documents exist (her will and some other court documents). So Todd assumed a great deal to turn the few facts into an entire book. In general, she did a good job but she did tend to exaggerate. From only a little evidence about the state of Merian's marriage to Johann Graff she says, "...something had rotted at the core of the marriage."

Todd enlivens the book with discussions about the natural sciences of the time and the men who worked in this area. Most interesting was her discussion of how these scientists viewed metamorphosis. Many believed in spontaneous generation - that maggots, for example, were generated from rotting meat. Merian's experiments proved them wrong.

Merian has been rediscovered today; you can buy copies of her prints and there are several books out about her, some of them for young readers. Much of that new interest is the focus on women scientists and some of her proto-ecological views.

Read more about women like Maria Sibylla Merian at my new series on
Women Adventurers

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Chrysalis.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

June 11, 2018 – Started Reading
June 11, 2018 – Shelved
Finished Reading

No comments have been added yet.