Starred Review. In this entertaining and insightful book, New York Times
science writer Yoon sets out to document the progression of the scientific quest to order and name the entire living world—the whole squawking, scuttling, blooming, twining, leafy, furry, green and wondrous mess of it from Linnaeus to present-day taxonomists. But her initial assumption of science as the ultimate authority is sideswiped by her growing interest in umwelt
, how animals perceive the world in a way idiosyncratic to each species, fueled by its particular sensory and cognitive powers and limited by its deficits. According to Yoon, Linnaeus was an umwelt
prodigy, but as taxonomists began to abandon the senses and use microscopic evidence and DNA to trace evolutionary relations, nonscientists' gave up their brain-given right (and tendency) to order the living world, with the devastating result of becoming indifferent to the current mass extinctions. Yoon's invitation for laypeople to reclaim their umwelt
, to take one step closer to the living world and accept as valid the wondrous variety in the ordering of life, is optimistic, exhilarating and revolutionary.