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Darwin's Dreampond: Drama on Lake Victoria Reprint Edition

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262571210
ISBN-10: 0262571218
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Editorial Reviews Review

Tijs Goldschmidt, a Dutch biologist, has been working for several years along the shores of East Africa's Lake Victoria, a freshwater sea the size of Switzerland. There he has chronicled the changing fortunes of the genus Haplochromis, made up of perchlike fish that differentiate into new species faster than any other vertebrates. Their numbers, however, fell precipitously after the Dutch government funded a fishery industry that harvested 60 tons of these cichlids daily; this industry also introduced nonnative species of fish that threatened to destroy the indigenous fauna. Goldschmidt writes of the mechanics of extinction--a process he says many biologists are loath to describe, for there "is always the hope that somewhere, hidden away, unnoticed, several individuals are still thriving." Students of population biology in particular will find this book of urgent value. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

There is a whimsical quality to this engaging first-person narrative of a Dutch biologist in a Tanzanian fishing village. There is also a lot of science. Goldschmidt joined an environmental impact study at Lake Victoria in the 1980s and encountered the furu, a fish whose radiation into hundreds of species far exceeds Darwin's better-known Galapagos Island finches. After introducing a "species flock" that includes creatures with such monikers as mud-biters, scale-scrapers, and snail-crushers, Goldschmidt guides the reader through a jungle of evolutionary theory that gets a bit eye-glazing at times. Fortunately, he is equally devoted to his comic misadventures among bureaucrats, missionaries, fisherfolk and fellow mzungu, or European "wanderers." Meanwhile, the prolific Nile perch, introduced in 1985 and hailed as the savior of the Tanzanian economy, appears to be bringing the furu's evolution to an abrupt end. In an early scene that might stand for both the wanderer's predicament and that of the furu, Goldschmidt questions an old man to determine if an expected Dutch boat could get stuck in a narrow Tanzanian tunnel: "'If I understand you correctly, everything can and cannot pass through the tunnel?' 'Eh,' said the old man, grinning broadly... 'You couldn't have put it better. Wewe mwenjiji, you are one of us. Welcome.'"
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (February 6, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262571218
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262571210
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,901,953 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Anon on February 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is one of those rare science books that combines wonderful science with excellent, well-imagined and carefully executed writing. The book focuses on the cichlids of Lake Victoria and seeks to explore why there are so many species of these fish living in one location. This "species flock" is under pressure and species are fast disappearing--they may be, as a phenomenon, one of the great natural wonders of the world.
The facts about the fish alone are amazing. There is no end to the amazing features and abilities these creatures have developed. Their variety is overwhelming. And it is described here in an incredibly poignant way that fills you with wonder at the power of evolution and variety of life on earth.
Goldschmidt has such a huge and inquistive mind that contemplating fish alone is not enough--life in all its forms seeps in. He connects his bout with malaria to a discussion on recessivity, the marital situation with his asstistant to the topic of sexual selection, the concepts of adaptive radiation with the culture of the area. It is a book that links scientific inquiry and insight with real life interactions, with the work and conditions of being a scientist, with the landscape and people around him. You get a sense of what the work of a field biologist is like and at the same time,you are introduced to some of the more technical aspects of evolutionary biology. And it is all done with enormous literary flair and affection for the subject. This is the kind of book that makes you rethink your career and sign up for as a volunteer to do field work.
Anyone interested in ciclids, evolutionary biology or just great nature writing will enjoy this enormously.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chris Rippel on December 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
Darwin's Dreampond is a story written on several levels. On one level, the story is about the speciation and extinction through predation by Nile perch and human fisherman of hundreds of cichlid species in Lake Victoria. At the end, readers get some relief with indications that new species are developing to replace those lost.
On a another level, the book is the intellectual adventure of a field zoologist trying to understand cichlids by reviewing evolutionary ideas and observations in other species and applying them to what he is observing. So, in addition to cichlids, readers learn about DNA, how natural selection creates evolution, the benefits of sickle-cell anemia, mimicry in butterflies, sexual selection in sticklebacks, the niches of different species of vultures, life among Tanzanians, and more.
People who appreciate good writing should know that the original Dutch version was nominated for two science writing awards and one literature award. It won one of the science writing awards.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Shelly Weaver on November 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I needed this book for a biology class and, at first, was not thrilled to have to read it. However, after starting to read it, I Did find it very interesting. It really tought me a lot about how species evolve and how some actually change so much that they become another species.

It also showed me how one species can almost whipe out a nimber of species.

Thhis is VERY good reading for anyone in the science field.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Robert J. Stern on June 21, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I am interested in the broader issues of the natural history of the region and find the Cichlid speciation fascinating. I never really thought about it but it seems to me that the formation of the world's 2nd largest body of fresh water from upland tropical streams would naturally result in a setting favorable to rapid speciation. Nevertheless, the book could have benefitted from better editing. I am not a biologist, so some of the biological descriptions were tough slogging. I am more than a little bit confused by the definition of every new looking fish as a species - we have lots of different looking dogs, from chihuahuas to Great Danes, which in some sense occupy different 'ecological niches', but these are not different species. I wonder whether the hundreds of different Cichlid species identified in Lake Victoria really evolved in that short of a time period, particularly since their ability to interbreed was not discussed. As a geologist, I would have liked to see more description of how the lake formed - I believe the lake formed in the last 12,000 years from tectonic uplift on the flanks of the Western Rift - and this should have been presented. Also, what do we know about the Cichlid species that lived in the upland streams 12,000 years ago that would have provided the rootstalk for the lake 'species flock'? I also would have liked more figures, maybe even a color plate or two. All of these criticisms aside, this is a 'must-read' book for people interested in Darwinian evolution. The two themes that are central in this book - tremendous diversification if not speciation of Cichlids over the past 12,000 years and extinction of Cichlids over the past 15 years following introduction of the Nile Perch - is a fascinating and fundamental 'fish story'.
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