While working on Chapter Nine, I wrote a review of Leibniz’s Protogaea for Society and Space. It’s a fascinating book, in a very good bi-lingual edition, with some striking illustrations. Particularly interesting for the discussion of fossils, which is something I’m going to be looking at for my next book. It’s very interesting to see how Leibniz used empirical evidence as the basis for his theories about the earth. There are some errors, of course, including the attempt at reconstructing the skeleton of a unicorn, but it’s a striking piece of work for the late 17th century. Leibniz talks of the ‘new science of natural geography’, and it’s not over inflated – he really does have a lot to say to discussions in geography and history, alongside his better known work on mathematics and metaphysics. There are all sorts of interesting linkages to his work on the mines in the Harz mountains and his massive history of the Brunswick family for the Dukes of Hanover.
One of the translators, Claudine Cohen, had an excellent book of her own translated and published by Chicago a few years ago. Entitled The Fate of the Mammoth, chapter three is on “Leibniz’s Unicorn”. She notes that the book is not really about the mammoth, but rather about a whole range of issues in the history of science and objects, for which the mammoth is the way in. It’s a great book, again very nicely produced. I’m sure I’ll return to this next year too.