Every Living Thing: The Great and Deadly Race to Know All Life (Hardcover)

Every Living Thing: The Great and Deadly Race to Know All Life By Jason Roberts Cover Image
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An epic, extraordinary account of scientific rivalry and obsession in the quest to survey all of life on Earth—a competition “with continued repercussions for Western views of race. [This] vivid double biography is a passionate corrective” (The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice).

“[A] vibrant scientific saga . . . at once important, outrageous, enlightening, entertaining, enduring, and still evolving.”—Dava Sobel, author of Longitude

In the eighteenth century, two men—exact contemporaries and polar opposites—dedicated their lives to the same daunting task: identifying and describing all life on Earth. Carl Linnaeus, a pious Swedish doctor with a huckster’s flair, believed that life belonged in tidy, static categories. Georges-Louis de Buffon, an aristocratic polymath and keeper of France’s royal garden, viewed life as a dynamic swirl of complexities. Each began his task believing it to be difficult but not impossible: How could the planet possibly hold more than a few thousand species—or as many could fit on Noah’s Ark?

Both fell far short of their goal, but in the process they articulated starkly divergent views on nature, the future of the Earth, and humanity itself. Linnaeus gave the world such concepts as mammal, primate, and Homo sapiens, but he also denied that species change and he promulgated racist pseudoscience. Buffon formulated early prototypes of evolution and genetics, warned of global climate change, and argued passionately against prejudice. The clash of their conflicting worldviews continued well after their deaths, as their successors contended for dominance in the emerging science that came to be called biology.

In Every Living Thing, Jason Roberts weaves a sweeping, unforgettable narrative spell, exploring the intertwined lives and legacies of Linnaeus and Buffon—as well as the groundbreaking, often fatal adventures of their acolytes—to trace an arc of insight and discovery that extends across three centuries into the present day.

About the Author

Jason Roberts is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His previous book, A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler, was a national bestseller and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A contributor to McSweeney’s, The Believer, and other publications, he lives in Northern California.

Praise For…

“[An] engaging and thought-provoking book, one focused on the theatrical politics and often deeply troubling science that shape our definitions of life on Earth.”The New York Times
“A fluent and engaging account of the 18th-century origins of Darwinism before Darwin.”The Wall Street Journal

“An entertaining compendium of fascinating facts.”The Spectator

“As Jason Roberts reveals in this vibrant scientific saga, taxonomists take up their mission with a mix of insight and foresight, colored by their moment in history, not to mention their foibles, their vanity, and their all-too-human prejudices. . . . A story at once important, outrageous, enlightening, entertaining, enduring, and still evolving.”—Dava Sobel, author of Longitude

“An epic account of an impossible scientific undertaking and a rare blend of deep research, page-turning storytelling, and the beauty of the natural world. . . . Every Living Thing brings history to vivid life and animates an essential story with an ever-present sense of wonder.”—Charles Duhigg, author of Supercommunicators and The Power of Habit

“A skillfully told, ambitious-in-the-best-possible-way tale about hubris, curiosity, rivalry, and deep, deep obsession . . . The impossible race between these two men to catalogue the entirety of the natural world winds up illuminating some of the best and worst stuff about being human.”—Jon Mooallem, author of This Is Chance!

“A lively, panoramic contribution to the history of science.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Enlightening . . . an enthralling look at a pivotal period in the history of biology.”Publishers Weekly

Product Details
ISBN: 9781984855206
ISBN-10: 1984855204
Publisher: Random House
Publication Date: April 9th, 2024
Pages: 432
Language: English