It’s today! It’s real! It’s here! My new book, I mean.
If that sounds like I’m a bit excited, it’s because I am. I’ve been working on Charles Darwin’s Barnacle and David Bowie’s Spider for about four years, and finally I can share it with all of you. It’s a book about the names of organisms – the scientific, or Latin names – and some people thing those are dull; but believe me, they’re anything but!
In particular, Charles Darwin’s Barnacle is a book about species that are named after people. Such “eponymous” naming has a long and curious history, from Linnaeus naming a small and unpleasant weed to insult a rival botanist to the recent spate of scientific names based on pop-culture icons—such as David Bowie’s spider, Frank Zappa’s jellyfish, and Beyoncé’s horsefly. Charles Darwin’s Barnacle explores the naming process as a way that scientists express themselves creatively, and it shows how scientific names open a window onto the passions and foibles of the scientific community. Scientists have named species for their heroes, for their wives and husbands and (sometimes) their not-so-secret lovers. They’ve even, occasionally, named species for themselves – at least once, doing so by accident. There are wonderful stories wrapped up in eponymous names. I hope you’ll enjoy reading some of them.
Would you like to get your hands on a copy? Here’s a US link; here’s a Canadian one; here’s one for Germany and one for the UK (the UK, mysteriously, has a later release date). But you can also ask at your local independent bookstore or public library.
I hope you’ll find Charles Darwin’s Barnacle fun to read. It was certainly fun to write! One thing I learned from working on The Scientist’s Guide to Writing is just how enjoyable it is to write less technical prose than I usually do. For Charles Darwin’s Barnacle, I spent hours going down amazingly entertaining rabbit-holes to trace the etymologies of names, the histories of pioneer naturalists both famous and obscure, and so much more. I read Linnaeus’s handwritten draft manuscripts. I read 19th-century Australian newspapers. I read (with the help of Google Translate and some very kind colleagues) papers and theses in French and German and Latin and Russian and Swedish and Italian. I read books by historians, by anthropologists, by sociologists, and by mathematicians. I thoroughly mystified my university library’s Interlibrary Loan staff. And finally, I got to work with my wonderful and talented illustrator, Emily Damstra, who found the beauty and personality even in a tiny land snail.
© Stephen Heard March 17, 2020
There’s a lot going on this week. Go for a walk; read a good book; and wash your hands.
Images: The first actual copy I got to hold; the sorting-hat spider Eriovixia gryffindori, © Emily S. Damstra; and a Christmas card from my son making it clear that I no longer have the family’s monopoly on Dad jokes.