by Jonathan Maslow ‧ RELEASE DATE: Sept. 13, 1996
Fourteen explorers of the American tropics, mostly naturalists, are profiled with brio and obvious affection by Maslow (Torrid Zone, 1996, etc.). They may have been dashing figures, those European explorer-scientists who probed the tropical lands from Mexico south starting at the turn of the 19th century, but they carried more than firearms and moxie into the wildlands. They brought brain power. They were encyclopedists. One might be an ornithologist, another a geologist, maybe an archaeologist, but they combined these specialties with an appreciation of herpetology and lepidoptery, entomology and botany. They and their works continue, with good reason, to be held in awe: Alexander von Humboldt, with his glimmerings of the unity ""underlying biological diversity""; the wild eccentricities of Charles Waterton, a virtuoso field naturalist; the natural laws and evolutionary theories developed by Alfred Russell Wallace, Charles Darwin, and Henry Bates; Thomas Belt's unraveling of tropical ecosystems; W.H. Hudson and Alexander Skutch's bird studies, and Archie Carr's sea turtle research; William Beebe, who dove the coral reefs and returned to the surface ""inarticulate with amazement""; John Stephens and Frederic Catherwood's pursuit of ancient lost cities in Mexico and Central America, leading to the rediscovery of the Mayan civilization; Margaret Mee's stupendous production of elegant, detailed paintings of the natural world; Daniel Janzen and his crusade to preserve tropical forests. Although each of Maslow's biographical sketches is deeply satisfying, those of Skutch and Janzen are particularly fascinating; both men are alive, still busy in the tropics, and Maslow was able to take the measure of the men in the flesh, asking those questions that would have been fun to put to Waterton or Hudson or Wallace (""So, Alfred, any thoughts on the notion that Mr. Darwin pinched your idea?""). Inspired characters in mythopoetic settings. Call them Indiana Einsteins, and call us fortunate to have Maslow to tell their stories.
Pub Date: Sept. 13, 1996
Page Count: 320
Publisher: Ivan Dee
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996
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