Tim Birkhead | 368 pages | 2018 | hardcover
Francis Willughby lived and thrived in the midst of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. Along with his Cambridge tutor John Ray, Willughby was determined to overhaul the whole of natural history and impose order on its complexity. It was exhilarating, exacting, and exhausting work. Yet before Willughby and Ray’s first book, the monumental encyclopedia of birds, Ornithology, could be completed, Willughby died. Now, for the first time, Willughby’s story and genius are given the attention they deserve.
In his short life, Willughby – and original member of the Royal Society – finessed the differentiation of birds through identification of their distinguishing features and asked questions that were centuries ahead of their time. His discoveries and his approach to natural history continue to be relevant – and revelatory – today.
With a fellow expert’s understanding and passion, Tim Birkhead celebrates how Willughby’s endeavors set a standard for the way birds and natural history should be studied. Rich with glorious detail, The Wonderful Mr Willughby is a fascinating insight into a thrilling period of scientific history and a lively biography of a man who lived at its heart.