Today, an entomologist in a laboratory can gaze at a butterfly pupa with a microscope so powerful that the swirling cells on the pupa’s skin look like a galaxy. She can activate a single gene or knock it out. What she can’t do is discover how the insect behaves in its natural habitat—which means she doesn’t know what steps to take to preserve it from extinction, nor how any particular gene may interact with the environment. Four hundred years ago, a fifty-year-old Dutch woman set sail on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis. She could not have imagined the routine magic that scientists perform today—but her absolute insistence on studying insects in their natural habitats was so far ahead of its time that it is only now coming back into favor. Chrysalis restores Maria Sibylla Merian to her rightful place in the history of science, taking us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian’s insights fuel new approaches to both ecology and genetics.
About the Author
KIM TODD’s previous book, Tinkering with Eden, received the PEN/Jerard Fund Award and the Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Award, among others. She has an MFA in creative writing and an MS in environmental studies from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula, Montana.
PRAISE FOR CHRYSALIS
"Todd's book is a portrait of the metamorphosis of an age, a society, and a woman whose passion to see the world through the metaphor of moths and butterflies would not abate. The illustrations reproduced in this fine biography affirm Merian's vision; the range of Todd's research and the eloquence of her writing give that vision voice."--Maurice Manning, BookForum
"In this spellbinding biography, Todd interweaves the life of Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist and naturalist who became famous in the seventeenth century for her engravings of caterpillars, with the intellectual and scientific history of metamorphosis."--The New Yorker