Winner of the 2018 Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize for best book for a general audience
Jim Endersby (University of Sussex)
The Watson Davis and Helen Miles Davis Prize Committee is delighted to announce that the 2018 award for a history of science book that effectively appeals to general readers goes to Jim Endersby, for Orchid: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2016). In this delightful, engaging, and insightful study, Endersby documents the enduring cultural and scientific allure of the orchid, from the time of the ancient Greeks to the recent past. With eloquent, imaginative, and witty prose, Orchid traces the cultural meanings associated with this often fragrant and beautiful plant, especially the themes of sex and death that weave through literature, scientific writing, and cinema. Reminding readers that there is “no stable boundary between the natural and the cultural,” Endersby deftly reconstructs scientific investigations of the often mysterious biology of the orchid family. Industrialization and empire fueled the orchidmania that gripped Great Britain in the nineteenth century, threatening the survival of exotic species that came flooding into the nation from its far-flung colonies. At the same time, the popularity of orchid collecting provided Darwin with the specimens he needed to demonstrate a close link between insects and plants, convincing evidence for his theory of evolution. In the final chapters, the orchid increasingly takes center stage, leading to a conclusion that offers an “orchid’s-eye view” of its history: with humans enlisted as pollinators, the family has successfully colonized a wide variety of new ecological niches, including grocery stores, florists, offices, and homes. Orchid delivers on its promise to offer a history of science that is simultaneously authoritative, accessible, and as enthralling as its subject matter.
Patrick McCray, Mary Terrall, Mark Barrow (Chair)
See Endersby’s profile at the University of Sussex.
Follow Jim on Twitter: @jimendersby
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