Before Darwin, before Humboldt, before Gilbert White, there was Merian. An artist turned naturalist, best known today for her exquisite butterfly prints, Maria Sibylla Merian was born in Germany just thirteen years after Galileo was prosecuted for proclaiming that the earth orbited the sun. But in 1699, at the age of fifty two, she sailed from Europe to the New World on an expedition to study metamorphosis. It was an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less a woman, but Merian undertook it undaunted with only her daughter for company. For two years, she stalked the tropical wilderness, looking for the caterpillars that were her passion, sketching her discoveries on scraps of parchment. Her careful observations of iridescent blue morpho butterflies and giant flying cockroaches made her one of the first to describe metamorphosis and laid the groundwork for modern-day biological science, particularly ecology. When she returned she produced a book that secured her reputation but her accomplishments were later dismissed and then forgotten in the nineteenth century, when scientists feared that they would be discredited if they built on the work of 'amateurs.' Taking us from golden-age Amsterdam to the sweltering rain forests of Surinam to modern laboratories where Merian's insights fuel a new branch of biology, Kim Todd brings to life an amazing seventeenth-century woman whose boldness and vision would still be exceptional today. Beautifully written and illustrated, Chrysalis restores Merian to her rightful place amongst those scientists who have changed the way we view the world.
av Kim Todd
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