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Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion Hardcover – April 28, 2005

22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. To be human is to change our habitat; this is one of the many insights in this thought-provoking account on the ecology of invasions, a hot new science in which new discoveries swiftly overturn old theories. Now that our habitat is global, creatures emigrate with us at an ever-accelerating pace, carried in ship ballast (a bivalve mollusk from England to Massachusetts), imported by nostalgic birders (once native birds returning from disappearance) or crawling into airplanes on their own (the brown tree snake from Australia to Hawaii). Even NASA's space probes carry potential invaders. If these creatures make new homes for themselves, they may eat other species into extinction, infect them with new diseases, even reconfigure an entire ecosystem. Burdick's fascination with the science is contagious, and he does a superior job of conveying the salient points of classic experiments. The Discover senior editor is at his best following invasion ecologists—a lively bunch—as they do their gritty, often ambiguous research in Guam and Hawaii, along the margins of the San Francisco Bay and on the deck of an oil tanker. His vivid descriptions add the pleasure of travelogue to the intellectual satisfactions of science: "Travel is a weekend away, a reward upon retirement, a chance gift won in a game show or a sweepstakes. Honey, we're going to Hawaii! Applied by biologists to nonhuman organisms, the phenomenon is known as the ecological sweepstakes, and it explains how life arrives at a place like Hawaii to begin with." This is a captivating book with wide-ranging appeal. 6 illus. Agent, Flip Brophy. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Increasingly, exotic animals and plants have been migrating to new environments, resulting in a phenomenon that biologists call the homogenization of the world. Burdick's journey found him searching for the brown tree snake (indigenous to Australia) in Hawaii–once a paradise without serpents–and visiting NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the foothills of Pasadena, CA, where scientists take extreme measures to make sure that we neither introduce nor bring back alien species in our exploration of space. He had set out to solve an ecological riddle; but as he followed invasion biologists fighting exotic invaders in Tasmania, Guam, and San Francisco, his observations led him to ask philosopical questions about the nature of the natural world. Teens curious about natural history and its odd permutations will be fascinated by this lyrical treatise.–Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (May 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374219737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374219734
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,946,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Alan Burdick writes for numerous publications including The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, GQ, Natural History, and On Earth. He has worked as an editor at The New York Times Magazine, Discover, and The Sciences, and was the editorial producer and senior writer for Science Bulletins, a multimedia science-news division of the American Museum of Natural History.

Born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., Alan graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in the history and philosophy of science. He now lives with his family in New York. "Out of Eden" is Alan's first book; it was named a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award in nonfiction and won the Overseas Press Club award for environmental reporting.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Dr Wind on July 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A worthy and timely read, providing a provocative and literary exploration of a topic that is of growing prominence and debate. It is a book to love for its exploration of a fascinating and timely subject, for the writing itself, and for Burdick's adeptness at taking the reader along for a remarkable exploration.

Burdick deserves high praise (which he is getting - see professional reviews) for the width and breadth of his research, travels and writing. The writing is wonderfully descriptive and poetic, the facts, processes and theories of invasive species biology and research are artfully described. These qualities, I believe, assure that the book will prove stimulating and readily enjoyable to readers who might not stray into the natural history and science fields otherwise.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on August 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A growing debate over "saving" endangered species has generated a rise in ecological studies. We too often view the issues raised in these discussion in too large a framework. Dams and chemicals savage habitat. Denuded rainforests reduce rain and reduce oxygen output. Disruption of the "balance of nature" must be stopped and reversed, according to environmental campaigners. There is another element rarely considered in ecological studies - how humans have been and are introducing new species into global habitats. Alan Burdick spent much of the past decade talking to the people who are investigating this phenomenon. This book is the result of his "odyssey". In a superb investigating account, he reveals what work has been achieved and what more is needed. Both accomplishments and unfinished studies are staggering in their scope and importance.

Opening his travel narrative with one of the more noted ecological disasters, he tours Guam, where an Australian reptile, the brown tree snake, devastated the indigenous species. Guam's isolation had protected its wildlife from major predators and thus was vulnerable to this invader. From the mid-Pacific, he visits Hawai'i [which he's careful to spell correctly, but only for a while]. The snake has almost certainly arrived in that State, but has been preceded by more notorious invaders - rats, goats and pigs. In Hawai'i, the pig occupies a less absolute value as an "alien" species. The Polynesian settlers brought pigs of their own all those hundreds of years ago. This "domestic" version is a major item in Hawai'ian culture, and hunting it is beset with ritual. It is reputed to be less destructive than the "wild" pigs left by Cook and other Europeans. Burdick explains how its uprooting practices might add new habitat to forest species.
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34 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Mayo on September 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just hate it when I get four pages into a "science" book and find a major, easy to "Fact check" error. The author asserts that Guam is fifteen hundred miles west of Honolulu. Actually it's 3,800 miles. He then tells us, page 71, that the submerged "new island" of Loihi is one mile from the Big Island of Hawaii. Actually its more than 20 miles from the coast.

While the story of the brown tree snake on Guam is an important one, it is much better told in Mark Jaffe's book "And No Birds Sing" (1994) and Jaffe's book has an Index. This one doesn't.

The last 80% of this book is about other "ecological invasions" that are interesting and not so familiar to me. The writing is pleasant, though chatty. But I wish I didn't feel I should wonder about the accuracy of the facts.

Shame on the Publisher, FSG.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Watters on May 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Who knew that a book about such a serious topic could be so witty and fun to read. Burdick takes the reader on an excellent world tour -- and he makes a the best sort of travel companion.

If you're tired of the shrill discourse that surrounds ecological matters, you'll welcome this book. Burdick has no axe to grind. He clearly went out to report on this complicated topic with an open mind. What does it mean to label something an invasive species? Can a non-native spieces increase the biodiversity of an ecosystem? Given that humans are the ultimate invasive species, what are our hopes for curbing the spread of other organisms? It's enjoyable to watch a savvy and smart journalist really think about these questions.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. Barton on June 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is amazing! It combines scientific insight and thoughtful reflection into a funny, moving and incredibly smart read. The reporting on hilarious and bizarre species, plankton in ballast water, exploding snake populations, bacteria on its way to Mars, reframes the world into a roiling crowd of serendipitous explorers and opportunists, making you understand that aliens are alive, well, and reshaping the world we live in, ready or not. But better, the author is able to see himself through the same lens, reflecting on all of us as opportunists and explorers. His passages about seeing himself in the same impulses that lead to such invasions were for me the most memorable-- moving, funny, and touching. This book transcends the popular science genre, and gets deep.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Exotic animals and plants are crossing the globe into new areas as never before, fueled by human traffic into previously inaccessible areas. From bird-eating snakes which come to Hawaii in the landing gear of airplanes to giant Indonesian snakes which wind up beneath the homes of suburban Miami, introduced species are presenting a growing threat to biological diversity, crowding out native species and rapidly changing the world. Out Of Eden: An Odyssey Of Ecological Invasion represents Alan Burdick's personal tour of the front lines of ecological invasion around the world. It answers the basic question of why invasion issues are important to human lives - and how it's happening.
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