Andrea Barrett
Natural History (hardcover) by Andrea Barrett
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[Andrea Barrett has] a scientist’s fascination for the natural world, but her primary concern is always human character and community.” 

Paris Review

Natural History


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

In Natural History, Andrea Barrett completes and connects the lives of the family of scientists, teachers, and innovators she has been weaving throughout her books since her National Book Award – winning collection Ship Fever was published twenty-five years ago. The six exquisite stories in Natural History (including the unforgettable capstone, the novella-length title story) are set largely in a small community in central New York State and portray some of her most beloved characters. Told with Barrett’s characteristic elegance, passion for science, and wonderful eye for the natural world, these psychologically astute and moving stories evoke the ways women’s lives and expectations — in families, in work, and in love — have shifted across a century and more.

Throughout, Barrett’s great theme comes shining through: 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.

Praise for Natural History

A genius-enchantress. Who but Andrea Barrett can take on the inscrutable elegance of the cosmos and the messy complexity of the human heart in a single story?” 

— Karen Russell

There is [in Andrea Barrett’s writing] simply a sustained beauty of phrasing, a close care for the thing to be said and the best way to say it, that blend of precision and appropriateness that has always characterized the best prose, an attentiveness to the truth of human feeling that is in itself a supremely civilized value.”

— Barry Unsworth

Andrea Barrett the storyteller pulls us relentlessly away from false comforts, into the dazzling, often chaotic, world as it really is.”

— April Bernard

Andrea Barrett does not flinch from large subjects, yet her uncanny investigations into human curiosity are sensual and soul- enhancing, and always underlit by splendid intelligence.”

— Howard Norman

Her work stands out for its sheer intelligence, its painstaking attempt to discern and describe the world’s configuration.”

New York Times

Ship Fever


1996 National Book Award Winner for Fiction

The elegant short fictions gathered hereabout the love of science and the science of love are often set against the backdrop of the nineteenth century. Interweaving historical and fictional characters, they encompass both past and present as they negotiate the complex territory of ambition, failure, achievement, and shattered dreams. In Ship Fever,” the title novella, a young Canadian doctor finds himself at the center of one of history’s most tragic epidemics. In The English Pupil,” Linnaeus, in old age, watches as the world he organized within his head slowly drifts beyond his reach. And in The Littoral Zone,” two marine biologists wonder whether their life-altering affair finally was worth it. In the tradition of Alice Munro and William Trevor, these exquisitely rendered fictions encompass whole lives in a brief space. As they move between interior and exterior journeys, science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material” (Boston Globe).

Praise for Ship Fever

The title novella is devastating: as with every story here, you enter right into it, and cannot entirely leave it behind.”

The New Yorker

Marvelous stories, unlike any being written today.”


[A] gorgeously imagined story collection… Barrett’s stories are precise and concentrated, containing a truly remarkable wealth of psychological and social commentary.”


Ranks with the best of the new wave of historical writing… Barrett courses back and forth over the history of science and the science of human relations in the nineteenth century, giving us the people behind the history — doctors, collectors, inventors, and women — a glory of passion, ambition, and love. This is just simply inspired writing.”

— Douglas Glover

Beautiful stories about the wonder and work of science…In Barrett’s hands, science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange, and thrilling fictional material.”

Boston Globe