The Wonderful Mr Willughby: The First True Ornithologist

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Tim Birkhead
1st (2018)

From the author of Bird Sense and The Most Perfect Thing, comes a biography of Francis Willughby, the first ornithologist.

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From the author of Bird Sense and The Most Perfect Thing, a biography of Francis Willughby, the first ornithologist

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 could complete their monumental encyclopaedia of birds, Ornithology, Willughby died. In the centuries since, Ray's reputation has grown, obscuring that of his collaborator. Now, for the first time, Willughby's own story and genius are given the attention they deserve.

In his short life, Willughby - an original member the Royal Society - finessed the differentiation of birds though 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 endeavours 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.