Translation is ultimately an impossible art, and scientific texts are hardly less impossible to translate satisfactorily than literary ones. I have aimed at translations that are as close as can be to what I believe to have been Cuvier's meaning, in the light of his other work and that of his contemporaries. (I do not subscribe to the current fashions of postmodernism, at least in the cop-out forms that deny the accessibility, relevance, or even existence of authorial intentions.) Where Cuvier's meaning was difficult to express in simple English--the translator's perennial dilemma--my compromises have leaned toward clarity of meaning rather than elegance of style. I have not hesitated to split his often overlong sentences, to run together his often overshort paragraphs, and to make other such adjustments that I judged would improve the readability of the whole. A few editorial additions of words that clarify the meaning are enclosed in brackets.
I have given particular care to the translation of Cuvier's key terms and phrases, and above all to those that embody his key metaphors; in such cases his own words are recorded, also in brackets. Readers who want to check the translations in greater detail can of course consult the original texts: several are available in modern reprints (see "Further Reading"), most of the others can be found in libraries that hold early nineteenth-century periodicals, and the two that have not been published previously are printed in an appendix in this volume.