The Emperor of Nature
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The Emperor of Nature
Charles-Lucien Bonaparte and His World

Patricia Tyson Stroud

400 pages | 6 1/8 x 9 1/4 | 16 color, 50 b/w illus.
Cloth 2000 | ISBN 978-0-8122-3546-3 | $49.95s | £32.50 | Add to cart

Winner of the 2001 Literary Award from The Athenaeum of Philadelphia

"Extensively researched, detailed, and skillfully written."—Library Journal

"Patricia Tyson Stroud deserves the highest commendation for this superb biography. She has dug deeply into a virtual treasure trove of European and American archival sources. . . . She has unearthed numerous illustrations of people and places. She details the exceedingly complicated relationships, intrigues, and political machinations within this royal family. . . . This book will be of interest to all ornithologists with a historical bent, and to anyone interested in royalty in general or the Bonaparte family in particular."—Canadian Field-Naturalist

"Stroud captures the life of an important, but virtually unknown, contributor to American ornithology…captures the man's accomplishments, frustrations, and idiosyncrasies clearly and objectively."—Choice

Cited as one of the Best Books of 2000 by Library Journal

In the early years of the Republic, America was a land filled with uncharted flora and fauna, a treasure-trove for every naturalist in the world. One such naturalist was Charles-Lucien Bonaparte, Prince of Musignano and Canino, nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. Called the father of American descriptive ornithology, Charles-Lucien was the author of the monumental American Ornithology: or, The Natural History of Birds Inhabiting the United States not given by Wilson.

Born in 1803 to Lucien, a younger brother of Napoleon, Charles spent his early childhood in Rome, where his father, an ardent republican and opponent of the Empire, had sought papal protection. In 1810, at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the family left Italy with the intent of emigrating to the United States; instead, they were apprehended by the British off Sardinia and taken to England, where for four years they lived publicly as celebrated captives. Charles was privately tutored, learning English and concentrating on his favorite subject, natural history.

With his wife—and first cousin—Zenaide, Charles joined his uncle Joseph in exile in Bordentown, New Jersey, in 1822. Stroud recreates the lives of these not quite Americanized Bonapartes in splendid and startling detail. Point Breeze, Joseph's estate, encompassed 1700 acres dotted with formal French gardens and a large artificial lake stocked with imported European swans. Here Charles hunted and studied birds, and encountered such purely American animals as the skunk and the rattlesnake. It was here, too, that American Ornithology took shape, and that he first collaborated with the still-unknown John James Audubon.

When Charles left America in 1828, he traveled to Italy and wrote works of comparative zoology, as well as a magisterial study of the mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish of that country. Throughout the next decades he was instrumental in setting up scientific congresses in Italy, where scientists the world over were welcome. Yet he was also involved in the growing republican movement in Italy, and it was because of this that he was forced to flee the country and eventually settle in France under the protection of his cousin, the hated Napoleon III.

Based extensively on archival sources, including many unpublished letters still in the possession of the Bonaparte family, The Emperor of Nature is the first biography ever written of Charles-Lucien Bonaparte. Forced by the circumstances of his birth to be a perpetual visitor, he nonetheless carved out a place for himself in the science of the natural world. It is at once a compelling story of the fate of Europe's imperial family, and an impressive contribution to the history of nineteenth-century science.

Patricia Tyson Stroud is an independent scholar who lives in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Thomas Say, New World Naturalist and The Man Who Had Been King: The American Exile of Napoleon's Brother Joseph, also published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. She is former editor of Frontiers, the annual publication of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

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