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Natural History: Book summary and reviews of Natural History by Andrea Barrett

Natural History by Andrea Barrett

Natural History


by Andrea Barrett

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  • Published:
  • Sep 2022
    208 pages
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About this book

Book Summary

A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author of Ship Fever.

In Natural History, Andrea Barrett completes the beautiful arc of intertwined lives of a family of scientists, teachers, and innovators that she has been weaving through multiple books since her National Book Award–winning collection, Ship Fever. The six exquisite stories in Natural History are set largely in a small community in central New York state and portray some of her most beloved characters, spanning the decades between the Civil War to the present day. In "Henrietta and Her Moths," a woman tends to an insect nursery as her sister's life follows a different path. In "Open House," a young man grapples with a choice between a thrilling life spent discovering fossils and a desire to remain close to home. And in the magnificent title novella, "Natural History," Barrett deepens the connection between her characters, bringing us through to the present day and providing an unforgettable capstone.

Told with Barrett's characteristic elegance, passion for science, and wonderful eye for the natural world, the psychologically astute and moving stories gathered in this collection evoke the ways women's lives and expectations—in families, in work, and in love—have shifted across a century and more. Building upon one another, these tales brilliantly culminate to reveal how the smallest events of the past can have large reverberations across the generations, and how potent, wondrous, and strange the relationship between history and memory can be.

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Media Reviews

"An imaginative miracle woven of complexly connected stories…Immersing oneself in Natural History is an experience both bracing and magical… [T]he blurring of distinctions, of past and present, reality and fiction, is enhanced by a narrative consciousness that doesn't hover over the characters so much as live in between them, switching at will from one perspective to the next, allowing us to see the world through Henrietta's eyes as well as look at her the way others do." ― Christoph Irmscher, Wall Street Journal

"Each story here offers [Barrett's] signature gifts: lyrical distillation of scientific complexity, artful wonder at the natural world, exquisitely observed details, and prose as precise and inevitable as a mathematical proof…With their kaleidoscopic interconnectedness, the overlapping circles of Barrett's stories, from this collection as well as her earlier works, add up to something large and delightful." ― L.A. Taggart, San Francisco Chronicle

"Barrett transforms deep knowledge of history, science, and human nature into gorgeously vital and insightful stories in which every element is richly brewed, mulled, and redolent." ― Booklist (starred review)

"As always, Barrett depicts the natural world and the human heart with wonder, tenderness, and deep understanding. More superb work from an American master." ― Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"[A] finely crafted linked collection about memory and science...Barrett offers well-observed details of the region, and Dierdre and Rose's imbalanced friendship makes for an intriguing parallel to Henrietta and Daphne, as Rose is now a schoolteacher after showing early promise while Dierdre is a star biologist. This offers rich rewards." ― Publishers Weekly

This information about Natural History was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

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Kiran S. (Milwaukee, WI)

Nature and Human Character
I really enjoyed this book. The six stories are set in a small community of central New York State. Stories relate to the natural word but human character and community are equally represented. There is a sustained beauty of prose and truth of human feelings. This is the first book by Andrea Barrett that I have read. I plan to read others.

Nancy E. (Sturgeon Bay, WI)

Natural history
This book will appeal to readers of history and those interested in nature. The stories cover the civil war and end during 2018.
Throughout the years some of the characters endure and families intermingle. The stories and characters provide a kaleidoscope of American life and natural history during this stretch of time. The author's portrayal was a joy to read.

Laura D. (Newmarket, NH)

Intertwined Short Stories
I had not read any of the author's work prior to hearing about this book. Given that Natural History includes characters from prior stories, I decided to read Ship Fever and Servants of the Map first. I highly recommend reading these two other collections prior to reading Natural History. Having the back story on the characters enhanced my reading experience. The author's writing style is precise, with just the right balance of historical and scientific details contained in decidedly human stories. Unfortunately, "The Regimental History" did not appeal to me due to the subject matter. However, it was well written and is essential reading because it ties into the other stories. I am thrilled to have discovered this author!

Linda M. (Ocala, FL)

Love of Nature Enhances Our Lives
Natural History is a wonderful set of stories interweaving the lives of some of the characters who appear in Andrea Barrett's previous works. The time frame stretches from the civil war era to modern times and focuses on women, family relationships and the love of nature as well as an appreciation of science and the world around us. As the stories unfold we see the lasting impact that a teacher with an organized, curious mind can have on her students and family members. As the book moves through time, the reader can see how community and family expectations of women's roles in and outside the home evolve. Traditionally, many of the most talented teachers have been intelligent, very well-educated women who were unable to pursue advanced degrees or occupational advancement due to societal expectations. The main character, Henrietta, is such a woman. She leaves the university setting and returns home to a small town in Central New York where she influences many lives in her role as a teacher and as a mentor to her nieces and former students. Her love of science and experimentation lives on in the interests and occupational choices of future generations.

Carol F. (Lake Linden, MI)

Nature Plus
A beautifully written collection of stories that are about nature but more importantly about the women who are connected throughout the stories. These women are thoughtfully woven into the book which makes the discovery of the connections unexpected at times but always flawlessly written in.

The first sentence just drew me in - a book of faded olive, not flashy, a silhouette of a crab on the cover. It made me want to dive right into this book.

Sure this is a book about nature but more importantly it is about the women who are connected throughout the stories not just through nature but through family and life.

Cheryl J. (Pebble Beach, CA)

What amazing Women
I thoroughly loved the book, Natural History. I hadn't read anything by Andrea Barrett for 25 years, since "Ship Fever". I am so impressed with her latest, that I now plan to read all of her books. I just fell for Miss Henrietta Atkinson. What a personality. She fits right in during her early years, and is such a lovely auntie for her attention to each of her nieces. The various short stories all tie together, and through a progression of years, we grow to understand where her real passion is — which is teaching, As luck would have it, teaching may be in the family's blood.

...17 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Andrea Barrett

Andrea Barrett is the author of nine previous works of fiction, including the National Book Award–winning Ship Fever―now republished by W.W. Norton―and Pulitzer Prize finalist Servants of the Map. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Fellowship, as well as a finalist for the Story Prize and a recipient of the Rea Award for the Short Story. Having lived in Rochester, New York, and western Massachusetts, Barrett now resides in the Adirondacks.

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