Curious Minds: The Discoveries of Australian Naturalists by Peter Macinnis
National Library of Australia, 2012. Pbk., RRP SA39.99. ISBN
Australia's unique flora and fauna fascinated our early European visitors who took home tales of strange and curious creatures that could surely only be the product of an over-active imagination or too many days at sea under an unfamiliar hot sun. Perhaps being down under did something strange to their eyes and brains! So naturalists became an essential part of the passenger lists of explorers so these weird and wonderful things could be documented through drawings, descriptions and specimens. Names like Banks, Dampier and Darwin appear as prominent people in our history, almost as well known as the explorers they travelled with.
In his latest book for the NLA, Curious Minds (which could well describe the author's as well), Peter Macinnis examines the contribution made by these naturalists to the understanding and conservation of our plants and animals, introducing us to a host of people including a number of women who made significant discoveries. In typical Macinnis style, everything is thoroughly researched and verified and because of this we learn not only the important and interesting but also the quirky and quaint.
Also in typical Macinnis style, the text is not dull and boring but written to tell a story and absorb the reader. This is a book for ordinary people - although it might be about 'the first geeks', it is not necessarily for them - and the myriad of illustrations from the National Library's collections not only help us understand but leave us in awe of the skill of these people who did not have the advantages of photography and technology. This is a book that is enhanced by the print format as you flip through it, see a picture that catches your eye and then your curious mind takes over.
Like his other books, Curious Minds has a special place on the shelves of your library as we help students to not only develop their knowledge of those who developed our knowledge of our amazing country but also to open up another dimension of the word 'scientist'. Perhaps even inspire a new Joseph Banks or Harriet or Helena Scott.
In my opinion, if you want your students to engage with our country and its wonders in a way that leaves them wanting more, then you must make Peter's books available. They will be entranced and perhaps inspired to look for the story behind the story in their own research. Macinnis does that so well.