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Platypus
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New or Used: $37.99
'In this remote part of the earth, Nature (having made horses, oxen, ducks, geese, oaks, elms, and all regular productions for the rest of the world) seems determined to have a bit of a play, and to amuse herself as she pleases.' - Rev Sydney Smith, Sydney, 1819.When the first specimen of a platypus arrived in England in 1799 it was greeted with astonishment and disbelief. What was this strange creature from the new colony of Australia? It defied rational explanation, with its webbed feet and duck's beak attached to what seemed to be a mammal's body--surely it was a hoax on the part of those cheeky new colonials?As eighteenth century naturalists struggled to classify the platypus, the little animal excited curiosity and sparked fierce debate in international scientific circles, drawing in leaders of zoology and comparative anatomy in Britain and Europe. This is the enigmatic story of a biological riddle that confounded scientists for nearly ninety years, challenging theories of creationism, evolution and the classification of species along the way.Secretive, elusive and beguiling, the platypus has continued to captivate public and scientific attention to the present day.
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Table of Contents

AcknowledgementsIntroduction1. 'This Highly Interesting Novelty'2. The Frenchmen's Gaze3. Marshalling the Animals4. The Wrangling Scientists5. The Land of Contrarieties6. The First Hard Look7. The Paper War8. Darwin's Platypus9. To the Antipodes10. The Clash of Titans11. Solving the Mystery12. The New Men13. 'The Platypus Man'14. The Platypus Goes to War15. 'The Animal of All time'GlossaryA Word on SourcesIllustrationsIndex

Promotional Information

Winner: Best historical zoology book in the 2001 Whitley Awards, run by the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales.Shortlisted (Individual): Centre for Australian Cultural Studies Award 2001Shortlisted: South Australian Festival Awards f

About the Author

Ann Moyal is a well-known historian of Australian science and has held research and teaching positions at a number of Australian universities. She has written many books and articles and is founder and past-president of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. She now lives in Canberra.

Reviews

Moyal (Breakfast with Beaverbrook) recounts the curious and dramatic history of Australia's platypus. Part mammal, part bird, part reptile, the platypus seemed as improbable as the mythical griffin when it was first seen in 1799 by European scientists. In an age obsessed with classification, the platypus defied categorization and sparked heated debates across Europe and across scientific disciplines, with very few satisfactory conclusions. Moyal clearly outlines the key points and players of the debate in a methodical manner. She also touches on the psychological and philosophical effects that such an enigmatic creature had on scientific thought as a whole. Despite the fascinating topic, the prose fails to engage the reader consistently and provides insufficient exploration of complex areas, such as the impact of the truly unexpected and unexplained on the scientific community. Recommended for general science collections of academic libraries, and for public libraries that collect popular natural history titles. Marianne Stowell Bracke, Univ. of Arizona Libs., Tuscon Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

scientific history presented in a highly readable and entertaining fashion.' Canberra Times

Everyone knows the platypus looks bizarre: its duck's beak, webbed feet, fur, swimming skills, secretive lifestyle and egg-laying talents combine to make the Australian mammal an object of fascination for would-be observers around the globe. Yet few of the monotreme's admirers have seen one in the wild; fewer still know the key roles platypuses have played in theories of evolution and in European concepts of Aussie life. Moyal a historian of science based in Canberra, Australia sets out to tell us all this and more in a cleanly written tome combining scientific curiosities with narrative history. Naturalists from Napoleonic France visited New Holland (Australia) in 1801, carrying wombats, emus and a platypus back to Paris, where astonished Europeans had trouble believing their eyes. Early 19th-century thinkers tried to arrange all the creatures they knew into a "Chain of Being," reflecting divine creation. The egg-laying, warm-blooded platypus and echidna (and their distant cousins, the marsupials) confounded all existing models, and hence sparked intense debate: did these critters really lay eggs? A "scattered company of amateur naturalists" tried hard for answers: the intrepid George Bennett, and later his son, found them, with consequences for the future of biology. Moyal's accessible account integrates this story with others: how was European racism bad for the duck-billed mammal? Who learned how to keep a captive platypus alive? And why, in the midst of World War II, did Australians take great pains to send a live one to Winston Churchill? Readers who care about Darwin and his successors, and readers who simply dig exotic animals, should enjoy Moyal's work: folks who belong in both categories won't be able to put it down. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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