"What's the use of their having names, the Gnat said, "if they won't answer to them?"
"No use to them," said Alice; " but it's useful to the people that name them, I suppose. If not, why do they have names at all?"
"I can't say," the Gnat replied.
Lewis Carroll; Through the Looking-Glass
In "Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science," a biologist and New York Times science writer (who lives in Bellingham) brings a fresh perspective to the naming of plants and creatures.
Carol Kaesuk Yoon takes a literary approach; from her very first sentence, you know this is a scientist who can speak to non-scientists.
"More than two hundred years ago, scientists began a quest to order and name the entire living world - the whole squawking, scuttling, blooming, twining, leafy, furry, green and wondrousness of it."
Yoon sees taxonomy as part of the deeply felt human need to order and name the living world around us. She evokes the vast diversity of all earth's living things, and reveals how humans around the world and throughout time have struggled to understand and make distinct this overwhelming abundance. I love this approach to natural history - it's like reading the backstory to Linnaeus, which not only gives a larger perspective to botanical names, but also awakens us to the nature's myriad wonders.