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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In a wonderful weave of science, metaphor, and prose, David Quammen, author of The Flight of the Iguana, applies the lessons of island biogeography - the study of the distribution of species on islands and islandlike patches of landscape - to modern ecosystem decay, offering us insight into the origin and extinction of species, our relationship to nature, and the future of our world.About the Author:
David Quammen was born in 1948, near the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, and spent much of his boyhood in an eastern deciduous forest there. His interest in the natural world -- hiking through woods, grubbing in creeks, collecting insects, taking reptiles hostage and calling them pets -- was so all-consuming that he would eventually, during adolescence, need remedial training in basketball.
At an early age he learned the word herpetologist and decided he might like to be one. But he had always been interested in writing; and at the age of 17, he met Thomas G. Savage, a Jesuit priest. Savage was to become a life changing teacher, fostering Quammen's literary ambitions and prospects, and encouraging him to attend college at Yale. He knew that at Yale Quammen would find a superb English department, and encounter people such as Robert Penn Warren, a great American novelist, poet, and critic. Despite his not having heard of Penn Warren, Quammen followed the priest's advice and enrolled at Yale. Fools luck was smiling on him, as were generous and trusting parents, and three years later he found himself studying Faulkner at the elbow of Mr. Warren, who became not just his second life changing teacher but also his mentor and friend. Quammen never forgot Thomas Savage's encouragement: The Song of the Dodo is dedicated to this vast-hearted curmudgeon, who died young in 1975.
In 1970, Quammen published his first book, a novel titled To Walk the Line, which had been steered toward daylight by Mr. Warren. Also that year, he began a two-year fellowship at Oxford University, England, where he continued studying Faulkner, loathed the climate, loathed the food, loathed the vestiges of upper-class snobbery, met a few wonderful people, and spent much of his time playing basketball (the remedial training had helped) for one of the university teams. Promptly after Oxford, Quammen moved to Montana, carrying all his possessions in a Volkswagen bus to this state in which he had never before set foot. The attractions of Montana were 1) trout fishing, 2) wild landscape, 3) solitude, and 4) its dissimilarity to Yale and Oxford. The winters are too cold for ivy.
Quammen made his living as a bartender, waiter, ghost writer, and fly-fishing guide until 1979. Since then he has written full time. In 1982 he married Kris Ellingsen, a Montana woman even more devoted to solitude than he is.
His published work includes two spy novels (The Zolta Configuration, The Soul of Viktor Tronko), a collection of short stories about father-son relationships (Blood Line), two collections of essays on science and nature (Natural Acts, The Flight of the Iguana), several hundred other magazine essays, features, and reviews, as well as The Song of the Dodo. From 1981 through 1995, he wrote a regular column about science and nature for Outside magazine, and in 1987 received the National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for work that appeared in the column. In 1994 he was co-winner of another National Magazine Award. In 1996 he received an Academy Award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He remains a Montana resident, despite the arrival of cappuccino.
In 1998 Scribner will publish Strawberries Under Ice, a new collection of Quammen's magazine essays and features, subtitled "Wild Thoughts from Wild Places." The wild places in question, from which he has drawn observations and inspiration in recent years, include Tasmania, southern Chile, Madagascar, the Aru Islands of eastern Indonesia, Los Angeles, suburban Cincinnati, and of course, Montana.
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