Flannery (The Future Eaters, not reviewed), a mammologist at home in the field, reports on his researches in a distinctly...


"THROWIM WAY LEG: Tree-kangaroos, Possums and Penis Gourds: On the Track of Unknown Mammals in Wildest New Guinea"

Flannery (The Future Eaters, not reviewed), a mammologist at home in the field, reports on his researches in a distinctly remote patch of upcountry New Guinea, which is about as upcountry as you can get. This is natural history in the raw, where personal comfort and safety take a backseat to the thrill of trooping about in those rare blank spots on the zoological map. Flannery, who has carried out scientific work throughout Oceania, concentrates here on Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya, lands that routinely serve up new species of mammals to expeditions. In a vaguely old-fogey tone (""My first memories of Port Moresby are still vivid"" and ""There is one case I will never forget""), he recounts slogging and slashing his way toward Goodfellow's tree-kangaroo, which dwells in the treetops of New Guinea's oak forest, or a King of Saxony bird of paradise (Flannery may be a mammologist, but it's with birds that he finds his most evocative encounters). He casually drops comments like, ""I was recovering from cerebral malaria at the time""; he carries out rude surgery in the wild; he makes the obligatory visit to an outhouse full of colossal hairy spiders. A python throws its coils around him (""I watched in amazement as my hand became miraculously attached to my knee""), and he is mortally threatened more than once by natives who resent his presence. Flannery paces his narrative well, and makes his book that much more valuable by detailing the quirks and everyday lives of the local people he works with. He ends the book with an intelligent, well-versed, and scathing critique of Indonesian malfeasance in Irian Jaya. A chronicle of fieldwork in places so untouched they feel out of time. How salutary it is to learn simply that such landscapes still exist!

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1999


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 1998

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