Ben Oliver

Sex, Botany & Empire

The Story of Carl Linnaeus and Joseph Banks
06 October 2020

A short look at the life of the father of botany, Carl Linnaeus and the man who popularised it, Joseph Banks.

Having just read Patrick O’Brian’s Joseph Banks biography1, I figured it would be good to get another perspective. This book covers much of the same ground, but Fara gives her own spin on the subject to keep it interesting and gives us a more contemporary take on this period in time.

Fara takes a broader view of the subject though and shows us how Linnaeus devised the botanical classification system using oddly sexual metaphors, then shows us how Banks among others helped clean it up. In spite of this, botany retained its image as a perverted and improper activity for quite some time, and Banks was mocked as well as revered upon his return from Australia.

Perhaps Banks scholars won’t have much to gain from this, but for a novice like me this book proved to be an entertaining, concise and captivating introduction to the topic.