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Description - Nature's Government by Richard Drayton

Nature's Government is a daring attempt to juxtapose the histories of Britain, Western science, and imperialism. It shows how colonial expansion, from the age of Alexander the Great to the twentieth century, led to more complex kinds of knowledge. Science, and botany in particular, was fed by information culled from the exploration of the globe. At the same time science was useful to imperialism: it guided the exploitation of exotic environments and made conquest seem necessary, legitimate, and beneficial. Richard Drayton traces the history of this idea of "improvement" from its Christian agrarian origins in the sixteenth century to its inclusion in theories of enlightened despotism. It was as providers of legitimacy, as much as of universal knowledge, aesthetic perfection, and agricultural plenty, he argues, that botanic gardens became instruments of government, first in continental Europe and then, by the late eighteenth century, in Britain and the British Empire. At the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, the rise of which throughout the nineteenth century is a central theme of this book, a pioneering scientific institution was added to a spectacular ornamental garden. At Kew, "improving" the world became a potent argument for both the patronage of science at home and Britain's prerogatives abroad. This book provides a portrait of how the ambitions of the Enlightenment shaped the great age of British power and how empire changed the British experience and the modern world.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780300059762
ISBN-10: 0300059760
Format: Hardback
(234mm x 156mm x 22mm)
Pages: 380
Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publish Date: 1-Jun-2000
Country of Publication: United States

Book Reviews - Nature's Government by Richard Drayton

UK Kirkus Review » At this self-appointed end of history, we may wonder why yet one more history is necessary, or even desirable. Drayton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Virginia, has no doubt, as he says in the epilogue to this book. 'The story I have followed through five centuries tells of your origins', he says. The story is the history of botany, and of the role of Kew Gardens, from its beginnings as a pleasure palace for George III and his Queen Caroline, like many throughout Europe, in the study and exploitation of the fruits of empire. Drayton tells of how botany, and the botanic gardens, helped to spin the great web of commerce, military adventure and administration that went along with empire, and what that imperial arrogance meant to the colonized, put to work in plantations, all sense of culture crushed. The result is a clear exposition of the mind of empire, told with a storyteller's sureness of narrative and rhythm, and illustrated with plates of contemporary woodcuts and paintings that make the book a treat to flick through, as well as instructive to read. Near the end of Drayton's history of English imperialism, sound the ominous rumblings of another empire in the making, as British interests in the Caribbean are threatened by the trading power of the United States. Still, as Drayton reminds us in his epilogue, free trade has been the goal of all bullying empires. This timely reminder of how science and empire serve each other's interests, in this new age of botanical imperialism by stealth, easily qualifies as my book of the year. Review by ALEX BENZIE (Kirkus UK)

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Author Biography - Richard Drayton

Richard Drayton is associate professor of history at the University of Virginia.