Published on 29 January 2020
A founder of comparative anatomy and a giant of nineteenth-century biology, Georges Cuvier, and his student and colleague Achille Valenciennes, brought together all that was known about fishes in their massive 22-volume Histoire naturelle des poissons published from 1828 to 1849. Despite the passage of time, this work represents a landmark in the history of science, indispensable to systematic ichthyology and to comparative biology in general. As an introduction to this monumental work, the first volume traces the development of the study of fishes as then understood—from the earliest beginnings to the first third of the nineteenth-century—and summarizes the criteria for classification that their own work would follow. This critically important essay—one of the first attempts at a comprehensive history of any major group of organisms—now appears in English alongside the original French text, beautifully illustrated and accompanied by rich annotations and commentary, serving to bring this important text to our attention and highlighting its historical significance.
Theodore W. Pietsch is Professor Emeritus in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, and Curator Emeritus of Fishes at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, University of Washington. His primary interests are in ichthyology, focusing on the evolutionary history, functional morphology, and reproductive biology of marine fishes, but also in the history of ichthyology and the history of science in general. He is the author of more than twenty books, including The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science, Tropical Fishes of the East Indies, Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep-Sea, and Charles Plumier (1646-1704) and His Drawings of French and Caribbean Fishes.