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A Short History of Nearly Everything

Bill Bryson

Joseph Banks was the naturalist on Capt Cook's 1769 voyage to Australia and New Zealand. He paid about £10,000 (equivalent to £600,000 today) to take himself and 9 others. Brought back 30,000 plant specimens - increasing by about a quarter the total number of plants known in the world.

Linnaeus invented the modern system of classifying plants and animals but readers were a trifle dismayed when they found he'd sprinkled his work with names like Clitoria, Fornicata and Vulva - he was totally pre-occupied with sex. Most of contentious names were quietly dropped in following years.

We know very little about the microscopic world. The average mattress has at least 2 million microscopic mites. If your pillow is 6 years old a tenth of its weight is made up of live mites, dead mites and mite shit. These mites have been with us forever, but were unknown until 1965.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln both born 12 Feb 1809.

Many extinctions just foolish. In 1894 a lighthouse was built on Stephens Island in Cook Strait. The lighthouse keeper's cat kept bringing back strange little birds it had caught. When the keeper sent some specimens off to Wellington Museum, the curator got very excited because they were the first examples of flightless wrens ever seen in the world. But by the time he got to the island, the keeper's cat had eaten them all.

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