The Lagoon

The Lagoon

How Aristotle Invented Science

Additional Formats
  • Hardcover
  • ISBN 9780670026746
  • 512 Pages
  • Viking
  • Adult


A brilliant study of Aristotle as biologist

The philosophical classics of Aristotle loom large over the history of Western thought, but the subject he most loved was biology. He wrote vast volumes about animals. He described them, classified them, told us where and how they live and how they develop in the womb or in the egg. He founded a science. It can even be said that he founded science itself.

In The Lagoon, acclaimed biologist Armand Marie Leroi recovers Aristotle’s science. He revisits Aristotle’s writings and the places where he worked. He goes to the eastern Aegean island of Lesbos to see the creatures that Aristotle saw, where he saw them. He explores Aristotle’s observations, his deep ideas, his inspired guesses—and the things he got wildly wrong. He shows how Aristotle’s science is deeply intertwined with his philosophical system and reveals that he was not only the first biologist, but also one of the greatest.

The Lagoon is both a travelogue and a study of the origins of science. And it shows how a philosopher who lived almost two millennia ago still has so much to teach us today.


Praise for The Lagoon
“Armand Marie Leroi opens Aristotle’s classical cabinet of curiosities to discover the genesis of science inside. In elegant, stylish and often witty prose, he probes the near-legendary, almost primeval lagoon, which inspired the ancient Greek’s Historia Animalium and animates it anew with his own incisive observations. From snoring dolphins to divine bees, Leroi shows us how Aristotle invented taxonomy two and a half millennia before Linneaus. That, in fact, out of poetry and metaphysics, blending the mythic with the mundane, Aristotle foresaw our contemporary dilemmas of definition and description. The Lagoon is a heroic, beautiful work in its own right, an inquiring odyssey into unknown nature and the known world, which science has created out of it.” 

—Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan, or The Whale 

“Armand Marie Leroi’s reappraisal of [Aristotle], The Lagoon, is one of the most inspired and inspiring I have read . . . Leroi’s ambitious aim is to return Aristotle to the pantheon of biology’s greats, alongside Charles Darwin and Carl Linnaeus. He has achieved it.” 


“A remarkable recovery of an ancient thinker’s daringly original enterprises—and mind-set.” 

Booklist (Starred Review) 

“Leroi calls on his expertise and his experience as a BBC science presenter to explain why Aristotle’s writings on science are still relevant today . . . A wide-ranging, delightful tour de force” 

Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) 

“Leroi lovingly rescues the reputation of Aristotle’s alternately meticulous and bizarre studies of animal behavior from the ruins left in the wake of derision during the Scientific Revolution. Leroi brings modern sensibility to, yet evokes an air of timelessness with, his gorgeous descriptions . . . ” 

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)