This biography of the eminent naturalist explores his life and pioneering work through the rapidly changing world of 19th and 20th century science.
For centuries naturalists have endeavored to name, order, and explain biological diversity. Born in 1861, Karl Jordan dedicated his long life to this project, describing thousands of new species in the process. Ordering Life celebrates Jordan’s distinguished career as an entomologist and chronicles his efforts to secure a place for natural history museums and the field of taxonomy.
In the face of a changing scientific landscape, Jordan was determined to practice good taxonomy while also pursuing status and patronage—an effort that included close collaboration with the Rothschilds. Biographer Kristin Johnson traces the evolution of Jordan’s work through wars, economic fluctuation, and political upheaval, demonstrating that the broader social context is an essential aspect of naming, describing, classifying, and, ultimately, explaining life.