This fine biography of Francis Willughby (1635-72) is intriguingly double-layered, the life of a 17th-century naturalist seen through the eyes of a modern ornithologist ... The dialogue between past and present brings the whole book alive ... Mr. Birkhead responds engagingly to Willughby’s eager curiosity, adding contemporary knowledge, including vivid observations and personal anecdotes—another story of the making of a naturalist. We feel the author’s excitement.
The Wonderful Mr Willughby is the story of Willughby’s short life, elegantly and engagingly told by Tim Birkhead ... After centuries of work that has built on their innovations, and decades of accurately illustrated field guides, Birkhead reminds us that we cannot underestimate the darkness in which Willughby and Ray laboured ... Common names have continued to be chronically unstable, and Birkhead gives an interesting list of those that have changed since Willughby and Ray recorded them in the Ornithology.
...religiously researched ... The author’s prose can wax academic and he bandies about terms like hemipenes and cloaca without explanation, as if he is lecturing to an advanced university class. The reader may read more about the internal organs of birds – the testes of green woodpeckers, for example – than he or she cares to ... That said, this biography makes an important contribution to a fuller understanding of Mr. Willughby’s pioneering career ... Perhaps as important, this book reaffirms in a very dramatic and specific way the vital role of science in the advancement of human understanding and welfare.
Birkhead’s two passions, birds and the history of science, give him the perfect perspective for studying an ornithological pioneer. What he has produced is a delightful biography ... [an] insight into the difficulties and thrilling discoveries of science in the seventeenth century.
...the focus is turned solely on providing Willughby with his very first full-length free-standing biography ... Birkhead's The Wonderful Mr. Willughby is probably the best attempt that will ever be made at drawing Willughby out of the shadows ... It's a gentle, slightly idiosyncratic biographical performance, one that thankfully makes only understated claims for its hero ... Birkhead has done all the traditional biographer's legwork that so few have bothered to do before him. He's consulted family records and consulted the family themselves, and he brings back details that add an immediacy to his pages.
An impressive biography of the 'man who began the scientific study of birds' ... With a novelist’s flair for narrative, Birkhead recounts the young man’s many adventures on expeditions, often accompanied by Ray, and his groundbreaking discoveries ... Bird lovers and fans of well-written science history will love this revelatory and intoxicating biography.
...a compulsively readable portrait of the driven, influential British naturalist ... Though at times the details become a bit dense, Birkhead has produced an enjoyable and informative piece of scholarship, with ample appeal for bird-watching or nature-enthusiast layreaders as well.