The Malaspina Expedition (1789-94) was the greatest of the eighteenth-century expeditions sent by European powers to collect scientific data. The sheer mass of Malaspina materials (in the Museo Naval in Madrid and other collections in Spain and Mexico) can only be approached by defining a project selectively. This was the strategy of González Claverán who deals only with the expedition’s work in New Spain, and bases her narrative mainly on the field diaries of Antonio Pineda, with judicious use of complementary materials. The result is a major work which adds considerably to what we know both of the Malaspina Expedition and of scientific enterprise in eighteenth-century Mexico. Moreover, it constitutes an important piece of scientific biography in its reconstruction of Pineda’s field methods and intellectual world.

Coverage is encyclopedic, including all the scientific fields that the expeditionaries cultivated. The botanical work of the Malaspina naturalists was prodigious. French-born Luis Née collected 16,000 specimens, most unknown to Europeans, while the Peruvian Botanical Expedition, which lasted six years longer, collected but 6,000. Pineda’s diary is also filled with botanical lore, particularly in the areas of economic and agronomic botany. Following the conventional European line in the “Dispute of the New World,” Pineda believed that European plants deteriorated in the tropics. Hence, he was interested in native plants that replaced European ones: maguey, he noted, occupied the same habitat as that occupied by the olive tree in Spain.

Pineda had been commissioned as a mineralogist, and it is in his explanations of Mexican geomorphology that his scientific talent is revealed. Pineda took pains to relate the processes he observed to the currently raging controversy between “Vulcanists” and “Neptunists,” coming down in the middle ground. In Mexico he saw a volcanic region thrust up through the ocean, then “degraded” by erosion.

The volume is nicely produced, with stunning illustrations in color, and a useful biographical dictionary (pp. 447-472) of expedition personnel. But many surnames of scientific figures, like the instrument makers Troughton, Dolland, Sisson, and Mégnié, or like the astronomer Maskeleyne, are misspelled, and the Dutch Newtonian Musschenbroek appears here as an Arab—Al Muschenb (p. 281)!

Malaspina, the gallant Italian commander of the expedition, was one of a long line of progressive men of science who ran afoul of the conservative Spanish monarchy. Implicated in a plot to overthrow the king’s ambitious minister, Manuel Godoy, in 1795, he was imprisoned and a royal order was issued forbidding the publication of any expedition materials. Thus ended the grandest and least known of the scientific ventures promoted by the Bourbon monarchy. González Claverán’s book should help restore it to its rightful place in the history of science.