The Multifarious Mr. Banks From Botany Bay to Kew, The Natural Historian Who Shaped the World Toby Musgrave

Publication date:
11 May 2021
Yale University Press
386 pages: 197 x 127mm
48 color illus.
Sales territories:

A fascinating life of Sir Joseph Banks which restores him to his proper place in history as a leading scientific figure of the English Enlightenment

“An extensive, admiring account of his subject’s circuitous route to fame and power.”—Wall Street Journal

“Readers interested in the British Enlightenment, the history of science, or the lives of great figures who played leading roles in England’s emergence as a global presence will enjoy this highly informative book.”—Choice

As official botanist on James Cook's first circumnavigation, the longest-serving president of the Royal Society, advisor to King George III, the "father of Australia," and the man who established Kew as the world's leading botanical garden, Sir Joseph Banks was integral to the English Enlightenment. Yet he has not received the recognition that his multifarious achievements deserve.

In this engaging account, Toby Musgrave reveals the true extent of Banks’s contributions to science and Britain. From an early age Banks pursued his passion for natural history through study and extensive travel, most famously on the HMS Endeavour. He went on to become a pivotal figure in the advancement of British scientific, economic, and colonial interests. With his enquiring, enterprising mind and extensive network of correspondents, Banks’s reputation and influence were global. Drawing widely on Banks's writings, Musgrave sheds light on Banks’s profound impact on British science and empire in an age of rapid advancement.

Dr. Toby Musgrave is a plants and gardens historian, independent scholar, and consultant. He is the author or coauthor of eighteen books, including The Plant Hunters, An Empire of Plants, The Head Gardeners, Paradise Gardens, Heritage Fruits and Vegetables and The Garden.

“Illuminating ... Modern specialists dismiss [Banks] as a jack of all trades, but Musgrave's claim that he changed our world is not an exaggeration.”—John Carey, Sunday Times

“Multifarious he [Mr. Banks] was indeed, and Mr. Musgrave treats us to an extensive, admiring account of his subject’s circuitous route to fame and power.”—Wall Street Journal

"Charismatic Sir Joseph Banks discovered hundreds of new plants, but was much more than just an explorer.”—Peter Sheridan, Daily Express

“[An] enthusiastic admiration of its subject and commitment to repairing a calumny-damaged reputation”—Steven Shapin, London Review of Books

“Readers will get a good idea of the range of Banks' scientific and administrative activities in this book, handled with a light touch and tinctured with wit.”—Brent Elliott, The Garden

“It is evident that the author knows a great deal about all aspects of Banks’ life and about contemporaneous affairs...One is left with a clear, rounded picture of Banks as a person...I have no doubt the author will achieve his aim to return Banks to his rightful place in our history.”—Patrick Kaye, Sir Joseph Banks Society Magazine

“Musgrave’s book is an engaging picture of how a love of plants can lead to many things, even
‘shaping the world’.”—Sandra Knapp, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland

CHOICE 2021 Outstanding Academic Title

“Sir Joseph Banks was perhaps the greatest scientist of his age and this book is an inspiration to all as we start to re-examine our relationship with nature.”Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE, author of The Great Explorers

“Combines depth of research with concise exposition of Banks’s remarkable career.”—John Gascoigne, author of Joseph Banks and the English Enlightenment

“At long last - a book that shines new light on such a key figure in history! From botanical gardens to Botany Bay, Joseph Banks’s brilliance radiates throughout this important and highly-readable new biography.”—Vanessa Collingridge, author of Captain Cook

"In the inimitable prose of garden historian Toby Musgrave, Banks is brought alive as a key figure in facilitating, among many other things, scientific - particularly botanical - endeavour, as part of the global positioning of Georgian England.”—David Mabberly, author of Botanical Revelation

“This well-researched and even-handed biography of Banks confirms his importance as a pioneering scientist, philanthropist and explorer.”—Graham Seal, author of The Savage Shore