Ship Fever

Andrea Barrett. Norton, New York, 1996.

A marvelous collection of seven short stories and a novella, all set within the world of nineteenth biological science. Interweaving historical characters like Linnaeus, Wallace, and Mendel with fictional ones, each story addresses and illuminates the secret passions of those driven by a fascination with the natural world. Human curiosity is Barrett’s subject, and she explores her subjects with an uncanny intelligence and a real respect for the wonder and mystery of scientific investigation. Some of these stories will remain etched in your mind years after you read them. One that resonates particularly vividly is The English Pupil, in which an old and feeble Linnaeus ruminates on his use — and misuse — of collaborators during his long drive to classify the world’s plants and animals.

Dr. George Johnson