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The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction Paperback – April 14, 1997
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A former Rhodes scholar, an award-winning essayist for Outside magazine and the author of two collections of articles and essays and of three novels, Mr. Quammen is, by trade, neither professional environmentalist nor scientist. He is a writer. And the book he has worked on for 10 years is intelligent, playful and refreshingly free of cant. . . . In Mr. Quammen's hands, the bad news of species extinction unaccountably uplifts. For it reminds us of nature's sheer, ornery diversity, and why it needs to be preserved. We share in the excitement of a new scientific discipline aborning. By book's end, we glean hints of hope that the future may not be entirely bleak. . . . Here is what a book can be. -- The New York Times Book Review, Robert Kanigel
From the Publisher
David Quammen's book, The Song of the Dodo, is a brilliant, stirring work, breathtaking in its scope, far-reaching in its message -- a crucial book in precarious times, which radically alters the way in which we understand the natural world and our place in that world. It's also a book full of entertainment and wonders.
In The Song of the Dodo, we follow Quammen's keen intellect through the ideas, theories, and experiments of prominent naturalists of the last two centuries. We trail after him as he travels the world, tracking the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses nothing less than the study of the origin and extinction of all species. Why is this island idea so important? Because islands are where species most commonly go extinct -- and because, as Quammen points out, we live in an age when all of Earth's landscapes are being chopped into island-like fragments by human activity.
Through his eyes, we glimpse the nature of evolution and extinction, and in so doing come to understand the monumental diversity of our planet, and the importance of preserving its wild landscapes, animals, and plants. We also meet some fascinating human characters. By the book's end we are wiser, and more deeply concerned, but Quammen leaves us with a message of excitement and hope.
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Great read. A pleasurable meandering through an interesting and important topic for species conservation.
If you prefer books that are short and to the point, then this probably isnt for you. At over 600 long pages, it does take Quammen an exceptional number of words to get to a fairly concise and concrete point. In fact, early in the book (chapter 2 maybe) he spoils the ending and that one sentence spoiler basically says it all.
That said, the book as a whole does a very admirable job in walking through a variety of very interesting and informative material to reinforce the entire concept for the inevitable premise to which it is all directed.
The book reads as a part history, part travelogue, and part science text, with a little humor and a lot of introspection thrown in to round it out.
Read this expecting the journey instead of a tailored economy of words in service of the thesis, and enjoy it as you go.
Quammen is engaging and this is a very good read.
It took me a long time to read this book not because it wasn't interesting, but because it covered a wide-range of related topics. It was as if several good books had been rolled into one.
The book focuses on biogeography. Quammen talks about the great people who've contributed to the field (beginning with Darwin and Wallace, of course,) and also talks about island extinctions (as they have been much more numerous than continental extinctions).
I found the stories about Darwin and Wallace fascinating. The chapters on rare, extinct, and (unfortunately) introduced species were the best part of the book for me. He also talks about recent studies and debates like SLOSS. Then Quammen ends the book with his own trip to Aru after years of carrying around a copy of Wallace's The Malay Archipelago.
My one criticism is in regards to the Kindle edition due to the page numbers and percentage. When I finished the book, it said I was only 60% done even though the chapters before the glossary end around page 600 out of 695. That's not 60% Kindle.
I recommend this book to anyone with interest in islands, habitat carrying capacity, and the history of natural sciences. It's a sober topic and an eye-opening read, but Quammen throws in some of his charm and wit as needed and expected.
Quammen's mixture of derring-do, scientific acumen, and ability to convey difficult ideas in accessible and amusing language is on full display here. Starting and ending with the story and work of Alfred Russel Wallace, Quammen explains island biogeography and its implications for a planet increasingly carved up into isolated islands of remnant habitat. He invokes the expertise of our best living scientists and native guides, he travels the planet to seek rare creatures and determined naturalists. He gets mugged in Rio, climbs vines up sheer cliffs in Madagascar, attends scientific conferences and takes a slow boat to Aru.
If you liked The Sixth Extinction, you will love The Song of the Dodo. And, then, quite possibly, you will cry for the apparent fate of this lovely world we sapient hominids seem bent on destroying.