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The Multifarious Mr Banks Reviews

The Multifarious Mr Banks by Toby Musgrave

The Multifarious Mr. Banks: From Botany Bay to Kew, The Natural Historian Who Shaped the World

Toby Musgrave

4.00 out of 5

3 reviews

Imprint: Yale University Press
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 28 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9780300223835

A fascinating life of Sir Joseph Banks which restores him to his proper place in history as a leading scientific figure of the English Enlightenment

4 stars out of 5
9 May 2020

"a full, clear-eyed and highly readable account of an engaging, if flawed, man who did indeed do much to shape the world"

Undaunted, Banks intended joining Cook’s second voyage, but he had become somewhat puffed up by fame, and the intemperate demands he made to accommodate him led to his staying behind. A short trip to Iceland, his last expedition, was a poor substitute. In order to cover Banks’s many subsequent occupations and interests, Musgrave abandons his chronological approach after the Iceland trip, proceeding instead thematically. This doesn’t altogether work, as many distracting cross-references in the text acknowledge. 



4 stars out of 5
1 May 2020

"Musgrave provides a finely detailed account"

In this book, which is published to coincide with the bicentenary of Banks’s death, Musgrave claims to ‘take a new look at this compelling gentleman’. But what is new here? By concentrating on Banks’s foreign travels, The Multifarious Mr Banks harks back to an older era and glosses over much recent scholarship (listed in the bibliography) that stresses the effects of Banks’s administrative schemes after his return. In content, this biography resembles the one by Patrick O’Brian (1988), who enjoyed the advantage of bringing a novelist’s verve to his narrative. Banks is a fascinating character, of undoubted historical importance, and much remains to be uncovered about his life.

4 stars out of 5
John Carey
26 Apr 2020

"Musgrave’s claim that he changed our world is not an exaggeration"

Joseph Banks was the most famous man in England when, in 1771, aged 28, he returned from circumnavigating the world with Captain James Cook aboard Endeavour. Yet now he is all but forgotten, and even in his lifetime he was denigrated and lampooned. Toby Musgrave’s illuminating biography suggests reasons for that, including jealousy. For young Banks was among the 300 or 400 richest men in the realm. Descended from generations of semi-literate, but prosperous Yorkshire squires, he inherited a huge annual income and the family estate at Revesby in Lincolnshire, with 340 acres of deer park and gardens.