But Memoirs of a Buccaneer is far more than historical adventure. Dampier was a man of intelligence and education with a strong naturalist's urge, and his book quickly became a vital source of information on the geology, biology, zoology, and peoples of the lands he visited. His descriptions of the West Indian manatee, booby birds, cacao, and mangrove trees—flora and fauna never before heard of in England and the Continent—are incredibly accurate. His notes on the produce of Guam and Mindanao—coconuts, vanilla beans, bananas, breadfruit, and more—exerted a powerful influence on Britain's explorations and colonizations. And his depictions of Central America's Mosquito Indians and the natives of Mindanao proved to be highly reliable.
The influence of this classic book on the work of later travelers is incalculable, leading writers such as Defoe, Swift, and Coleridge to borrow both facts and literary style from it. It continues to inspire readers today.
From the biblical book of Genesis to Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution, these extracts from world literature illustrate the development of scientific thought across millennia. Starting with speculations by the ancient Greeks on the structure of the universe, selections on cosmogony include works by Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Laplace, Foucault, and Einstein. Theories and reports on experimental results concerning the nature of matter range from Paracelsus' writings on alchemy to Faraday's work with electrochemistry and Sir Ernest Rutherford's studies of radioactivity and the structure of the atom. The final section on evolutionary theory begins with Aristotle and Pliny and features landmark works by the giants in the field, among them, Linnaeus, Lamarck, Lyell, Malthus, Darwin, and Mendel. 36 figures. 7 tables.
Great Journeys allows readers to travel both around the planet and back through the centuries – but also back into ideas and worlds frightening, ruthless and cruel in different ways from our own. Few reading experiences can begin to match that of engaging with writers who saw astounding things: Great civilisations, walls of ice, violent and implacable jungles, deserts and mountains, multitudes of birds and flowers new to science. Reading these books is to see the world afresh, to rediscover a time when many cultures were quite strange to each other, where legends and stories were treated as facts and in which so much was still to be discovered.