Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis (Paperback)

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis By Kim Todd Cover Image
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Before Darwin, before Audubon, there was Maria Sibylla Merian.

An artist turned naturalist known for her botanical illustrations, Merian was born just sixteen years after Galileo proclaimed that the earth orbited the sun. But at the age of fifty, she sailed from Europe to the New World on a solo scientific expedition to study insect metamorphosis—an unheard-of journey for any naturalist at that time, much less a woman.

When she returned, she produced a book that secured her reputation, only to have it savaged in the nineteenth century by scientists who disdained the work of “amateurs.”

Exquisitely written and illustrated, Chrysalis takes us from golden-age Amsterdam to the Surinam tropics to modern laboratories where Merian’s insights fuel a new branch of biology. Kim Todd brings to life a seventeenth-century woman whose boldness and vision would still be exceptional today.

About the Author

Kim Todd is the author of four books about science and history, including Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis and Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America. Her most recent, Sensational, the Hidden History of America’s “Girl Stunt Reporters,” was published by HarperCollins in April 2021. Her work has appeared in OrionSierra MagazineSmithsonianHigh Country News, and several Best American Science and Nature Writing anthologies, among other places, and has received the PEN/Jerard Fund Award and the Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award. She is currently on the creative writing MFA faculty at the University of Minnesota, where she teaches literary nonfiction. Learn more and get in touch at

Praise For…

"A breathtaking example of scholarship and storytelling, enriched by ample illustrations of Merian’s work." 

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In this spellbinding biography, Todd interweaves the life of Maria Sibylla Merian, a German artist and naturalist who became famous in the seventeenth century for her engravings of caterpillars, with the intellectual and scientific history of metamorphosis."  — The New Yorker

“What makes Chrysalis such a pleasure is that our awe is guided by Merian’s discoveries. Her life was dedicated to understanding and depicting the science of transformation, yet she never lost her enchantment with what few of us could deny is also miraculous.”  — Orion

“Drawing on Merian’s work and personal documents, Todd sheds new light on the history and contributions of this absolutely amazing woman….Todd’s writing itself is lush, almost poetic, whether she is describing the science of metamorphosis or Merian’s own personal metamorphosis throughout her life.” — Library Journal (starred review)

“If Maria Sibylla Merian were alive today, she’d be on Oprah. A teen bride, she later left her husband and joined an obscure cult, supported herself by selling her paintings, and studied nature in the South American jungle at 52. The kicker? She did all this in the 17th century.”  — Bust Magazine

Product Details
ISBN: 9780156032995
ISBN-10: 0156032996
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication Date: December 3rd, 2007
Pages: 352
Language: English