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Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals Hardcover – May 4, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 299 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (May 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393068935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393068931
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,281,462 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Travel writer and field naturalist Conniff (Rats) shares such outrageous vignettes from his career as feasting on warthog sausage with an occasional side of beetle larvae, having insects copulate on his forehead and communing with packs of African wild dogs. His acute descriptions and self-deprecating humor keep such sections riveting, but the chapters profiling other experts' research and involvement with various species read a bit laboriously. Particularly tedious is his investigation into Madagascar's lemurs with Patricia Wright, a housewife-turned-primatologist, who names the lemurs and spends nights in the forests observing them. Conniff's perspective is nowhere to be found in this chapter, only a historical and contemporary account of Wright's experiences and her effort to preserve the lemur colonies. Readers will likely crave more chapters spotlighting Conniff's personal experiences of the animals and his keen wit and insights. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Nature writer Conniff has traveled all over the world to climb mountains, follow African wild dogs, watch hummingbirds in an Arizona backyard, and, yes—swim with piranhas. While following the African wild dogs, which have a reputation as predators unafraid to attack humans, Conniff gets out of his Land Rover and sits near three dogs. Two yearlings approach, but an adult walks right up to the author—and sniffs him. A visit to an entomologist reveals the self-named Justin O. Schmidt Pain Index, a guide to just how painful insect stings really are (as sampled by Mr. Schmidt, who’s been stung by at least 150 different species). New Orleans gets battered not only by hurricanes but by a much more insidious enemy, termites, and Conniff learns that there are two different kinds of houses—those that have termites and those that will have termites. And, finally, that swimming with the piranhas part: with red swim trunks in a public aquarium tank and amid chummed beef liver in the Amazon, Conniff survived this watery visit. Delightfully addictive, read this one for natural-history fun. --Nancy Bent

More About the Author

Richard Conniff writes about behavior on two, four, six, and eight legs. He has collected tarantulas in the Peruvian Amazon, tracked leopards with !Kung San hunters in the Namibian desert, climbed the Mountains of the Moon in western Uganda, and trekked through the Himalayas of Bhutan in pursuit of tigers and the mythical migur.

His latest book is The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth (Norton, November). Also now out in paperback is Swimming With Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals (Norton, 2009). He is the author of The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights, and Work Smarter By Understanding Human Nature (Crown, 2004), The Natural History of the Rich: A Field Guide (Norton, 2002); Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife (Holt, 1998); Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World (Holt, 1996); and other books.

The New York Times Book Review says, "Conniff is a splendid writer--fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can't resist quoting him."

Conniff also writes about wildlife, human cultures and other topics for Time, Smithsonian, Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, and other publications in the United States and abroad. His magazine work in Smithsonian won the 1997 National Magazine Award, and was included in The Best American Science and Nature Writing in 2000, 2002, and 2007. Conniff is also the winner of the 2001 John Burroughs Award for Outstanding Nature Essay of the Year, a 2009 Loeb Award for distinguished business journalism, a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship,and a 2012 Alicia Patterson Fellowship.

Conniff has been a frequent commentator on NPR and recently served as a guest columnist for The New York Times online. He has written and presented television shows for National Geographic, TBS, Animal Planet, the BBC, and Channel Four in the UK. His television work has been nominated for an Emmy Award for distinguished achievement in writing, and he won the 1998 Wildscreen Prize for Best Natural History Television Script for the BBC show Between Pacific Tides.

You can follow him on Twitter @RichardConniff, and on his blog http://strangebehaviors.wordpress.com/

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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And THIS BOOK is all about the FUN stuff.
Matthew S. Cavnar
His real life accounting of his adventures out in the world of nature is truly fascinating.
moondoggie
He was funny, witty and the book was fantastic.
Redgem

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on June 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals blends science, humor and observation to explore the behaviors and oddities of all kinds of animals, from lemurs that eat cyanide to your local friendly piranha whose ferocity has been mistyped. Little-known truths about exotic species are imparted in a fine field survey following biologists' animal studies and favorite experiences - all seasoned by the author's often-humorous, personal observations. Any general collection catering to lay readers of science facts and animal oddities will find this an accessible, popular lend.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By moondoggie on July 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover
OK, So I only took Biology 101 in college 35 years ago, because I wasn't into that kind of thing, but needed it for a requirement. This book is a page-turner--I could hardly put it down. Richard Conniff writes with a definite attitude and strange sense of humor--this was right up my alley. He should be lecturing at some college or high school on a regular basis--there would be standing room only--including those not even officially enrolled in the class.
His real life accounting of his adventures out in the world of nature is truly fascinating. Ever wonder about how all of the animal species/genuses are named? This will help you understand why it's sometimes 'a revenge business' amongst the nerdy folks who discover them and then are awarded 'naming rights'. Perhaps we need these people naming all of our sports arenas--would definitely be more entertaining than The 'Sprint' or 'Staples' Center. How about the sex habits of ants? Yep, it's in there, along with lots of other cool yet factual explanations about what's happening out there in the world of nature that we aren't normally aware of.
Buy this book!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Matthew S. Cavnar on July 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Richard Conniff got a lot of public attention recently when he wrote a column called "The Consolation of Animals" for the NYT. It discussed how much of his career has sent him to remote parts of the globe to study strange forms of life -- but due to the state of the world, he's been traveling a little less. So he started studying the creatures and biology around his house. The ecosystem he described struck a chord with a lot of readers -- not least for the pitch perfect descriptions and writing. It was an excellent piece, but people might have forgotten that no one does gonzo natural world adventures better than Conniff. And THIS BOOK is all about the FUN stuff. And there is much fun stuff to be had. Check it out for the story behind those National Geographic articles where the author is blithely waltzing through the rainforest. It definitely proves even top science writers can have a touch of the Wildboyz.

[...]
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I admit, I downloaded this book as a compulsive response to the sub-$3.00 price inducement offered at the time. While not a huge risk -- I had encountered Mr. Conniff's prose once or twice earlier in the pages of Outside Magazine and NatGeo -- I still wondered about the relatively fire-sale pricing. Bad eBook formatting? Poor editing? Turns out, the book is fine; I merely lucked into great pricing for a solid book.

Nature enthusiasts will surely enjoy the breadth and variety, if not the depth, of Mr. Conniff's exploits and descriptions thereof. Which is not to suggest that the vignettes do not contain thought-provoking moments, because they do. This is because Mr. Conniff sticks largely to describing, very clearly and succinctly, what he saw and experienced during a very brief frozen moment in the life-cycle of a given creature and those who study it. In doing so, Mr. Conniff invites the reader to ponder those big-ticket philosophical and conservation issues -- the relevance of anthropomorphism in primate study, or the role of hunters in attaching economic value to a stressed species, for instance. Want more depth? Mr. Conniff provides plenty of names and organizations in each chapter, as well as a perfectly succinct list of citations by chapter at the end of the book.

Kindle users will be happy to know that the table of contents is linked and that it is as easy as ever to highlight a name or book title provided by Mr. Conniff and, with a few button presses, instantly learn more via the Web.
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I was't quite sure what this book would be like, and I put off reading it for a while (waiting until 'I felt like it'), but once I started, I couldn't stop! Even though it's a real page-turner, it's written in such a way that it's perfect as a 'palate cleanser' between other books. Each chapter is less than 10 pages long, is entirely self-contained and relates to a single subject. The author's style is very easygoing, amusing, and somewhat self-deprecatory. These are not stories about *animals*, but *stories* about animals and the people who study them. Every chapter is full of fascinating trivia and ancedotes. The scientists are all real 'characters', and their love/admiration for the animal they study shines through clearly. I bookmarked several chapters to share with different friends, depending on their interests.

A definite 'must read' for just about anyone, of any age. No blood, no gore, no sad endings - just the tales of some quirky people who have dedicated their lives to studying other creatures, great and small, likeable and not, endangered or plentiful, wild or captive. As another reviewer said - buy this book!
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