Books by David Rains Wallace

Released: Oct. 1, 1997

The unique evolutionary story of the species-rich Central American land bridge is eloquently chronicled by Wallace (The Quetzal and the Macaw, 1992, etc.). Five million years ago, the Isthmus of Panama, the final puzzle-piece of what became known as Central America, poked its head above water, initiating the Great American Biotic Interchange. Species that had been specific to either North or South America commenced to cruise: dogs, cats, and deer went one way across the bridge, armadillos, porcupines, and opossums the other. Wallace's own first trip south, in 1971, was to Guatemala, where the unusual mixture of animals and plants aroused his curiosity. Why, he asked himself, was he running into turkeys and foxes in the deepest jungle? So he went back, time and again, to peruse the land bridge's complex physiography, a tangle of blue mountains and malarial lowlands, high plateaus and sierras, jaguar-infested savannas, lively volcanoes, and limestone caves. While delineating these landscapes, as well as the astounding fauna and flora, he twines the narrative with histories of Western adventurers (like Christopher Columbus, for whom a land bridge was the last thing he wanted to encounter, and who died convinced that Panama was southern China); the studies of naturalists such as the pirate William Dampier and Dominican priest Francisco Ximenez; tales of fossil-hunter Barnum Brown and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould; and a portrait of the lives of today's inhabitants, described by one researcher thus: ``You can go from one little municipio to the next and find not just a completely different language, but a completely different way of looking at the world.'' Wallace's wildlife gleanings are enviable: pheasant cuckoos, orange-bellied trogons, rainbow cichlids. A vibrant natural (and human) history of a biomassive throughway where large patches still remain unknown. (2 maps, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1992

Comprehensive history of the Costa Rican National Park system, generally considered a global model of ecological preservation. During the past 40 years, Wallace (the novel The Vermilion Parrot; Bulow Hammock, etc.) tells us, Costa Rica has lost almost half of its forest cover—much of it not even cut for timber, but burned for pasturage for low-grade export beef. At the same time, measures to protect the forest were begun by an unusual combination of activists—Olof Wessberg, an immigrant Swedish fruit-farmer; Daniel Oduber, Costa Rican president from 1974-78, who had a special interest in natural history; and Mario Boza, who at age 27 became chief of the new National Park service. Wallace narrates a lively history showing how these men guided their Third World country into being more prowilderness and biocentric than the US or Europe, principally as Oduber began to acquire every type of landscape and ecosystem possible in order to create a national repository of bio-diversity. Wallace vibrantly illuminates these varied habitats, such as this lowland rain forest: ``The air has a burning clarity at the same time it is loaded with jungle smells and humidity. Thunderheads that loom out to sea every afternoon seem carved of translucent stone, and the deepest shadows under the trees have a kind of luminosity.'' Elsewhere, his detailed discussions of the evolution and workings of the Costa Rican park service are clear and interesting. Some of the nation's conservation issues, he points out, are duplicated in the US—e.g., the question of how to deflect pressure from miners, loggers, ranchers, and government agencies- -while others particularly afflict Third World countries with limited land and growing populations. Costa Rica, Wallace explains, is working through the dilemma seen in Africa, where impoverished people press from all sides upon the parks for hunting and farming sustenance. An eloquent case study with worldwide lessons. (Map.) Read full book review >
THE VERMILION PARROT by David Rains Wallace
Released: June 26, 1991

Nature-writer Wallace (Bulow Hammock, The Turquoise Dragon, etc.) produces another delightful, fast-paced ecological thriller, this one featuring a unique survivor from prehistoric times—a five-foot-tall talking parrot—along with condor thieves, religious cultists, the CIA, and one beautiful spy, among other attractions. Along for the ride (and quite a ride it is, at novel's end, a mind-boggling white-water journey down a Mexican river on an overloaded raft) is the reluctant hero of that first novel, George Kilgore. Here, George takes a seemingly innocent job as manager of a land preserve after his tree-nursery business goes bankrupt; but when he and a friend set out to find evidence that land developers are capturing California condors and removing them from the land so that it can be developed without complaint from ecologists, things get complicated. They discover a feathered, highly evolved dinosaur that has been hidden for over 20 years in a mountain bunker by the US government—a very talkative creature that soon co-opts George and an alluring Eastern Bloc spy (with the unlikely name of Jill) into fleeing with it to Mexico, with government agents in hot pursuit. Once they're below the border, the creature's surprising secret is revealed, the condor smugglers are confronted, and everything builds to the wet and wild climax. An enjoyable and diverting read—not really as farcical as it sounds—that offers some thoughtful comments on the human condition. Read full book review >

This time around, veteran nature-writer Wallace (The Klamath Knot; The Turquoise Dragon) meanders through Bulow Hammock, a fertile subtropical woodland close by Daytona Beach, while ruminating with his usual grace on his favorite topics—ecology and evolution. Wallace first clapped eyes on the Hammock as a young boy, and was struck immediately by its smell, "a perfumey sweetness" that reminded him of "hotel lobbies and cocktail lounges." Returning as an adult, he finds much else to remark on—notably, the lush fauna of golden silk spiders, white ibis, "timid, confiding" alligators, armadillos, ticks, musk turtles, and giant stick insects that spray him with noxious liquid. His repeated forays bring him up against the Hammock's "unyielding blankness"—the mystery at the heart of nature that forces him to see this wilderness in its own right, not as he expects it to be. The Hammock seduces his touch (he feels "leprous" from humidity, heat, and itchiness); it also sends his mind racing pleasantly over such disparate subjects as the role of dreams, forest phobia, the evolution of flowers, and the inherent wisdom of newborns—all raising many questions but no definitive answers. A charming, unfocused ramble. Read full book review >