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Dodo: A Brief History Hardcover – January 18, 2003
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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From Publishers Weekly
Rarely have humans ruminated so much about so little, as in the case of the dodo. As amateur naturalist Fuller points out in this precise, charming and beautifully illustrated volume, of all extinct beasts none, except perhaps a few dinos, grip the imagination like the chubby, swan-sized, flightless bird (a type of pigeon in fact) that Europeans first encountered on its island home of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, in 1598, and that was gone forever only 90 years later (a victim most likely of European predators both human and animal). Today all that remains of the dodo are some bones, a ravaged foot and head, and a few primary accounts and illustrations. Yet the dodo is wildly popular, mostly as an "icon of extinction," first spurred to prominence, Fuller explains, by Sir John Tenniel's illustrations for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and now the subject of dozens of books, fiction and nonfiction, its image and name attached to nearly every type of object (from tea towels to notepads to houses); yet "genuine dodo literature...is characterized by its remarkably poor scholarship." Fuller rectifies that flaw here, explaining exactly what we do and don't know about the dodo, and reproducing important primary material, both words and pictures, as well as a handsome selection of secondary material. This is the fourth book Fuller has written about extinct birds (The Great Auk, etc.); with its smart, informed text, wealth of illustrations (200 color), very reasonable price and terrific subject, it's liable to be the most popular yet.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Scientific American
Sailors from a group of Dutch ships that reached the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius in 1598 found dodo birds in considerable numbers along the coast. Forty years later the species was all but gone there, and by 1690 it was extinct everywhere. Fuller, a British painter interested in curiosities of natural history, tells the dodo's story with grace and many intriguing illustrations. Hard facts about the dodo are minimal. The bird was "a gigantic, flightless pigeon" with a massive beak, a large head and a tuftlike tail. But its exact appearance is uncertain because drawings made while it still lived are contradictory. Written accounts are "as tantalizing as the pictures." Having set out the few facts, Fuller goes on to describe the dodo's popularity in literature--and to give it an epitaph as "the ultimate symbol of what can go wrong when man and nature come together."
Editors of Scientific American
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The facts about the birds are slim. They came from the small island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. They were actually large pigeons. They weighed more than fifty pounds, according to an observer from 1634. They had ridiculously small wings that were a parody of flight. We don't know what they ate, what they sounded like, or how they mated. "But of one thing we can be sure," he writes, "There are now no dodos." Europeans arrived on Mauritius when the Dutch navy landed in 1598 (there had been transient visits by Portuguese and Arabs before then), and only fifty or so years later, there were no dodos. The dodo had no predators before encountering humans, so it had slipped into a flightless existence, and also did not flee when approached. They were easy prey. After the bird's extinction, no one much cared about it. In 1755, there was exactly one stuffed dodo. It was within the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. It was in such a decrepit state that it was consigned to the flames. The head and right foot alone were saved, and "these pitiful fragments" still exist and have been used for DNA samples. Of course they are depicted here.
After more than a century of oblivion, Fuller explains that one simple event caused "... the general public to take notice of the dodo, and the bird itself to enter the ranks of universal celebrity." In 1865, Lewis Carroll published _Alice's Adventures in Wonderland_, with an episode of the "caucus race" which the dodo decides "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes." Prizes, he also decides, have to come from Alice herself. Sir John Tenniel illustrated the episode, with his image based on first-hand depictions. Fuller explains that the dodo, like the book, "... was suddenly in vogue and - again just like the book - it has never since been out of it." Dodo poems followed, and "Dodo" as a nickname for girls, dodos on teapots, tea towels, stamps, coffee mugs, advertisements, table service, and more. We will never forget the dodo. Fuller's handsome, beautifully illustrated volume of all this dodo lore helps in the cause of dodo remembrance. It is throughout good-humored, and in accord with its subject, it is peculiar, funny, and sad.