cover image Joseph Banks: A Life

Joseph Banks: A Life

Patrick O'Brian. David R. Godine Publisher, $29.95 (328pp) ISBN 978-0-87923-930-5

In this bustling and arty portrait, English biographer O'Brian, author of the Aubrey-Maturin historical seafaring series, depicts naturalist and explorer Joseph Banks (1743-1820) as a man of unflagging energy and intellectual curiosity. Banks explored Newfoundland and Iceland, developed Kew Gardens into a major botanical center, presided over the Royal Society, accompanied Capt. James Cook on his first voyage around the world and spurred the colonization of Australia as a penal colony. He also concocted the scheme to transplant breadfruit from the South Seas to Jamaica on Captain William Bligh's Bounty , a plan that resulted in the famous mutiny. Amiable, kind and unprejudiced toward the Polynesians he encountered on his travels, Banks is described as ``in some ways a curiously impersonal man'' whose inner self remains hidden even in his seafaring journals, excerpts from which appear in this elegant biography cum spirited adventure. Illustrated. Reader's Subscription Book Club and Garden Book Club alternates. (Feb.)