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The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0374246648 ISBN-10: 0374246645 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; First Edition edition (June 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374246645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374246648
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,421,581 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Approximately 30,000 species of animals and plants go extinct every year. Weidensaul's narrative concerns those rare occurrences when a supposedly extinct animal makes a surprise reappearance, and the much more frequent occasions when scientists or civilians only think they've sighted a vanished creature. His suspenseful naturalist detective stories take readers all over the globe to Madagascar, Indonesia, Peru, Costa Rica in search of these lost species. In the swamplands of Louisiana, the author and his guide brave swarming mosquitoes and deadly vipers to check out reports of an ivory-billed woodpecker. Weidensaul (Living on the Wind) recounts famous success stories, like the recovery of the coelacanth, a fish believed to be extinct for about 80 million years until fishermen landed one off the coast of South Africa in 1938, as well as various wild goose chases and his own obsessive search for the South American cone-billed tanager. Along the way, he shows how humans and nature have unwittingly conspired to condemn animals to oblivion, such as the dozens of Great Lakes fish species lost to overfishing and the inadvertent introduction of parasitic lampreys from canals built in the 19th century. For the most part, though, Weidensaul's gracefully written book strikes a hopeful note, reveling in the exhilaration of the searches themselves: the greatest gift these lost creatures give this too-fast, too-small, too-modern world [is] an opportunity for hope. Illus. and maps not seen b.
- an opportunity for hope. Illus. and maps not seen by
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Scientific American

Weidensaul writes superbly about animals and his role as an amateur naturalist in studying them, as he showed in Living on the Wind (1999) on migratory birds. Here his subject is the search for lost species, often as a participant. Among the species are Semper's warbler, the golden toad and the ivory-billed woodpecker. Most searches fail, but Weidensaul describes some successes: the rediscovery of lost species, including Gilbert's potoroo, the large Jamaican iguana and the Congo bay owl. Imagining [a rediscovery] leads to a germ of hope, he writes, and hope sometimes leads to belief, to obsession and piles of old maps, to fruitless expeditions and squandered life savings. All of which would seem a sad and farcical pathology, except that just often enough, some lucky searcher hits pay dirt, and the world stands surprised and delighted with the discovery.

Editors of Scientific American


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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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I read quite a bit and this book is definitely one of the reasons why.
Richard Noll
I've just finished reading this book for the fourth time, and although I've not left the house I feel like I've been around the world.
Allison Butz
The often suspenseful narrative is peppered with history and sharp observations as well as varied opinions.
Debbie Lee Wesselmann

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Eileen Galen on June 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Scott Weidensaul says early in this careful and remarkable book that he has "an untrained eye," but of course he's being much too humble. Weidensaul, an accomplished naturalist who seems also totally comfortable with people, traveled the globe for this book and he writes that the search for lost species is "a good deal more subtle than I'd originally realized." He calls the process of rediscovery "the many ways in which the lost come back from the grave," and explains that what at first may seem like the business of biology and science is in fact "enmeshed with human psychology, deep-seated desires, and the ways, accurate or imagined, in which we view our world." Later in his narrative he confesses that if he had one crack at a working time machine, he would without a doubt set it for "about twenty thousand years in the past." The last Ice Age would have had a terrific reporter in Weidensaul.
There is a variety of famous and not so famous little-known and in some cases "extinct" creatures (Bachman's Warbler on the island of St. Lucia, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the Australian night parrot, the golden toad, and more) to be written about. Weidensaul delves into theories of hybridization, cloning, and numerous current issues in nature and science. As to the discovery of obscure or assumed-vanished species, he writes that finding an unknown plant or animal is not difficult since "the roughly one million species that scientists have named and catalogued may represent only a tenth to a thirtieth of the planet's total biota." For example, never-before catalogued species of birds emerge from the famously shrinking tropics at the rate of one or two per year.
His stories combine reportage and layman's science with historical narrative.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Scott Weidensaul has written a fascinating, page-turning exploration of the complexities of species survival and extinction. From the first chapter, a narrative account of his personal search for the probably extinct Semper's Warbler on St. Lucia, to the last chapter where he may, or may not, have found the never before seen female cone-billed tanager, this book never let go of my imagination. Most of the sought-after species in this book are never found, but a few, such as the coelacanth and the almost-aurochs, are. The author looks for big cats rumored to be living in the English countryside, and tells of the accidental rediscovery of the Australian night parrot. He provides one of the few intelligent treatises on the Loch Ness Monster and other cryptobiological "species." Even though most possibly extinct animals are never found, it's the hunt for them that excites both the author and the reader. The often suspenseful narrative is peppered with history and sharp observations as well as varied opinions. The language is rich with visual and engaging details, the kind that makes you feel as though you've entered into the "land of the lost." Trust me, you won't fall asleep reading this book. This is lay science as it should be, full of mysteries and questions, both accessible and intelligent. The author's good humor and pithy insights lend a friendly tone to his science. For example, when he is fighting insects - in his ears, eyes, and under his watch band - during a frantic search for a specific flock of birds, he writes, "There is a reason lost species are lost in the first place. Sometimes the reasons are weighty and formidable, like civil unrest, impenetrable mountains, or bandit warlords who use visitors for target practice.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By doomsdayer520 HALL OF FAME on December 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a very unique book about mankind's relationship with endangered and extinct species, from both a naturalist and ethical perspective. As more and more species become extinct through the actions of humans, sightings of supposedly extinct creatures remain common. Is this because those animals really aren't extinct, with small populations still surviving in remote locations; or is it just wishful thinking? Weidensaul finds some of both in this book. Some regions of the world are still so remote that they are yielding new species (even some large mammals like in Southeast Asia) and revealing survivors of animals that were thought to be extinct. On the other hand, people may think they see romantic and mythical creatures out of subconscious longing for a world that is still mysterious and dangerous, and maybe even evolutionary guilt for destroying species forever. A related issue to that subconscious longing is the creatures of cyrptozoology, which explains the never-ending reports of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Weidensaul dwells both on the ethical issues behind such wishful thinking, and also on the real science of bringing species back from the brink. He examines the ethics of using genetic engineering and cloning to save endangered species - and recreating extinct species, a new craze of questionable value. Weidensaul also takes us on entertaining searches for supposedly extinct creatures that have a reasonable chance of still existing, like the cone-billed tanager in Brazil or the strange thylacine in Tasmania. The only problem here is Weidensaul's lack of closure on many of the ethical issues that he raises, but this book is still a rewarding look into mankind's always complicated relationship with nature.
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