“A book should be as an axe, to break the frozen sea within.” —Franz Kafka

    Every Living Thing

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

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

    “A fluent and engaging account of the 18th-century origins of Darwinism before Darwin.”
    —Wall Street Journal

    “A vibrant scientific saga…at once important, outrageous, enlightening, entertaining, enduring.”
    —Dava Sobel, author of Longitude

    Amazon Editor’s Pick—Best Books of the Month

    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.