Pliny the Younger claimed that his uncle's book was "a learned and comprehensive work as full of variety as nature itself." It certainly includes more than 20,000 facts derived from over 2,000 earlier texts, which makes it the major source for ancient beliefs about every form of useful knowledge--from agriculture, architecture and astronomy to geography, metallury and zoology. Pliny's detailed but sceptical account of medicine and pharmacy is both a mine of informaion and a fascinating expose' of the doctors of his day. And his wonderful tall stories, personal reminiscences and many sharp digressions on human ambition, extravagance and greed all add color and a variety to his book. Yet Pliny was, above all, a man so intensely interested in the natural world that he was killed while trying to observe an eruption of Vesuvius at close quarters; theNatural Historyis a magnificent monument to his energy, extensive research and insatiable curiosity.