What makes a scientist?
A great scientist isn’t made in the womb, born a genius predestined for a rich life of discovery. A scientist is someone with a sense of wonder and interest in the natural world and whose curiosity has space to grow.
In this memoir, Richard Fortey, one of our most brilliant scientists - a palaeontologist and natural historian - tells the story of how as a young boy he became fascinated with the natural world, leading to a long life and career exploring its secrets. He leads a journey through the botany and birds, fossils and fungi, using a different object to lead each chapter.
A great brown trout caught by his father opens up the world of fish, streams and rivers. A blue thrush’s egg takes us out tramping through water meadows and into the social world of birds and trees. Richard takes us back to his past as a small boy who was allowed a little shed at the bottom of the garden in which to play chemist and where, with the guidance of the encyclopaedia, he made the likes of potassium cyanide from horse hoof clippings, and then the ‘smelliest substance’ - a chemical that when taken outside the shed’s confines brought mayhem to his school and the Central Line.
Educational and inspiring, this is a charming memoir of a life in the thrall of science.
"Truth and courage are what memoirs need and this one has them both in spades.... He never forgets that the small boy, watching his father’s effortless casting on the waters of the Itchen, somehow remains permanently present inside the great, famous and lauded scientist. The unforgotten boy: that is what makes this a book a revelation." (Adam Nicolson, winner of the 2018 Wainwright Prize)
"A wonderful, absolutely beguiling glimpse into the formative life of a great scientist. I learnt a lot and really loved it." (Richard Holmes)