April 29, 2006
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Joseph Banks: A Life

by Patrick O'Brian

Banks, a wealthy young man, found little to amuse him at Harrow, Eton, and Oxford save botany. He did throw himself into botany, though, and when the opportunity arose he sailed with Cook's pioneering little expedition to the South Seas, discovering and cataloging and ultimately returning to the thanks of the Admiralty, the admiration of King George III, and the presidency of The Royal Society. An unusually amiable, intelligent, and generous man, Banks never learned to spell or to use punctuation but knew and corresponded with every important scientist and naturalist of the age.

O'Brian was the author of the wonderful Aubrey-Maturin novels in which Banks himself plays a minor role, but Banks is clearly a model for Maturin and O'Brian's inimitable voice and unique ability to capture the passion and excitement of research, explaining just enough but never quite as much as lesser writers would, makes this biography delightful and memorable.