The author traces the long history of botany, introducing the reader to 58 "cast" members who searched for a method of grouping plants in an attempt to make some order out of the universe, beginning with Theophrastus, the Greek philosopher, who studied under Aristotle some 2300 years ago. She continues on through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and suddenly ends the book in the 1700's with only a few words written about Linnaeus. And less about the use of DNA technology today for plant classification. But the journey through history was fascinating.
Theophrastus was the first person to describe plants using their similarities and differences in an attempt to find some order in the universe through plant classification. Under his system plants were divided into four classes: trees, shrubs, sub-shrubs, and herbs. His system underwent many changes as new knowledge was acquired over time. Theophrastus worked with the some 500 known plants of his time. Now there are 422,000 plant species! Much of the work of Theophrastus was buried, burned, or miscopied in the years after his death, until it was rediscovered in the Renaissance.
Plant classification through the middle ages had been focused on plants that were used for medicinal purposes. And for poisons. Poisons seemed to be very important at that time. Superstitions, too, not scientific facts, were often a deterrent to the advancement of botany. But the stories did make for interesting reading.
It was during the Renaissance that plant classification took a big step forward. That was the time of the great plant illustrators. And The Naming of Names contains many beautiful and sometimes amusing full page illustrations from the manuscripts, plants encyclopedias, woodcuts, and herbals of the times. The book is worth reading if only to see the amazing illustrations.
The Naming of the Names was not a quick read for me. I borrowed the book from the local library and renewed it twice, because I read only a few pages at a time, not because it was difficult to read, but my mind simply became boggled processing the catalog of so many "cast" members. However, I must say that Anna Pavord is an excellent writer, so the book was never dull, and as I said before, the plant illustrations were beautiful. It is a large book with 471 pages and would make a great gift for a serious plant lover.
Anna Pavord is also the author of another well known book, The Tulip, which has been on my "to read" list for some time. It will be a great book to read during the long days of winter.
Today I'm joining Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys for another of the monthly book reviews. Visit her blog to read reviews of other interesting books that gardeners are reading this month.