Anyone who has studied the early history of Texas has stumbled at one point or another upon the figure of Jean Louis Berlandier. This Frenchman is best remembered as a botanist embedded — as we would say today — in the Comisión de Límites (Boundary Commission), an expedition of scientists appointed by Mexican president Guadalupe Victoria to survey the boundary between Mexico and the United States in the late 1820s. Russell M. Lawson has given us the first full biography of this indefatigable naturalist, beginning with his early life in eastern France and Switzerland, his training under the exacting Augustin Pyramus de Candolle at the Geneva Academy, his serendipitous appointment to the Boundary Commission, and his arrival to Mexico and initial travels. Lawson’s writing is engaging and evocative.

The core of the book is devoted to Berlandier’s work in the Boundary Commission. Headed by General Manuel de Mier y Terán,...

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