Chrysalis
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Chrysalis : Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis

3.89 (275 ratings by Goodreads)
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Today, an entomologist in a laboratory can gaze at a butterfly pupa with a microscope so powerful that the swirling cells on the pupa's skin look like a galaxy. She can activate a single gene or knock it out. What she can't do is discover how the insect behaves in its natural habitat--which means she doesn't know what steps to take to preserve it from extinction, nor how any particular gene may interact with the environment. Four hundred years ago, a fifty-year-old Dutch woman set sail on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis. She could not have imagined the routine magic that scientists perform today--but her absolute insistence on studying insects in their natural habitats was so far ahead of its time that it is only now coming back into favor. Chrysalis restores Maria Sibylla Merian to her rightful place in the history of science, taking us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian's insights fuel new approaches to both ecology and genetics.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 330 pages
  • 134.62 x 200.66 x 22.86mm | 362.87g
  • United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • Illustrations, color; Illustrations, black and white
  • 0156032996
  • 9780156032995
  • 310,619

Flap copy

An artist turned naturalist known today mostly for her exquisite insect and butterfly prints, Maria Sibylla Merian was born just thirteen years after Galileo was prosecuted for proclaiming the earth orbited the sun. But in 1699, more than a century before Darwin or Humboldt, she sailed from Amsterdam to South America on an expedition to study metamorphosis. It was an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less a woman, and she undertook it at the age of 52-- 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 -- at a time when theories of spontaneous generation still held sway (old snow gave birth to flies; raindrops yielded frogs) -- and laid the groundwork for modern-day biological science, particularly ecology. But her accomplishments were mostly dismissed and then forgotten in the nineteenth century, when scientists feared that they would be discredited if they built on the work of "amateurs."
Now Kim Todd has restored Merian to her rightful place in the beautifully written and illustrated "Chrysalis." Taking us from golden-age Amsterdam to the sweltering rain forests of Surinam to the 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."
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Back cover copy

"Fascinating reading about a little-known, independent woman."--""Science""
Today, an entomologist in a laboratory can gaze at a butterfly pupa with a microscope so powerful that the swirling cells on the pupa s skin look like a galaxy. She can activate a single gene or knock it out. What she can t do is discover how the insect behaves in its natural habitat which means she doesn t know what steps to take to preserve it from extinction, nor how any particular gene may interact with the environment.
Three hundred years ago, a fifty-two year-old German woman set sail on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis. She could not have imagined the routine magic that scientists perform today but her absolute insistence on studying insects in their natural habitats was so far ahead of its time that it is only now coming back into favor. ""Chrysalis"" restores Maria Sibylla Merian to her rightful place in the history of science, taking us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian s insights fuel new approaches to both ecology and genetics.
"What makes "Chrysalis" such a pleasure is that our awe is guided by Merian's discoveries. Her life was dedicated to understanding and depicting the science of transformation, yet she never lost her enchantment with what few of us could deny is also miraculous."--""Orion """
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"This lovely and thoughtful book sets Maria Merian's work in its natural context, restoring its true meaning and the reputation she deserves."--Andrea Barrett, author of""The Voyage of the Narwhal"""
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Kim Todd's previous book, ""Tinkering with Eden, "" received the PEN/Jerard Fund Award and the Sigurd F. Olsen Nature Writing Award. Her essays and articles have appeared in ""Sierra, Orion, Backpacker, "" and ""Grist, "" among other places. She lives in Missoula, Montana."
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Review quote

PRAISE FOR CHRYSALIS "Todd's book is a portrait of the metamorphosis of an age, a society, and a woman whose passion to see the world through the metaphor of moths and butterflies would not abate. The illustrations reproduced in this fine biography affirm Merian's vision; the range of Todd's research and the eloquence of her writing give that vision voice."--Maurice Manning, BookForum "In this spellbinding biography, Todd interweaves the life of Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist and naturalist who became famous in the seventeenth century for her engravings of caterpillars, with the intellectual and scientific history of metamorphosis."--The New Yorker
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Rating details

275 ratings
3.89 out of 5 stars
5 26% (71)
4 45% (123)
3 23% (64)
2 5% (14)
1 1% (3)
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