THE CRYSTAL DESERT by David G. Campbell


Summers in Antarctica
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 A glittering, curlicued natural history of Antarctica: Campbell's literary debut and a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship Award winner. Campbell (Nations and the Global Environment/Grinnell College) passed three summers at Brazil's Antarctic Research Station, in a land of surprisingly abundant life ``hatching, squabbling, swimming, and soaring on the sea wind'' during the ``short, erotic summer.'' His research centered on marine crustaceans, but his canvas here encompasses all wild creatures of the Antarctic--as well as the humans who have hunted them to near-extinction. Campbell scuba dives in unexplored waters and finds an ocean floor teeming with ``a bouquet of species'' that includes anemones, sea stars, limpets, giant sea spiders, and more sponges than anywhere else on earth. He collects Weddell seal dung; visits a penguin rookery with its ``fetal barnyard stench''; notes the ``incongruous--and sublime'' presence of fiery volcanoes in a land of ice; watches a ``blizzard of plankton'' at night and likens it to the swarming stars above. Superlatives abound: the Atlantic Convergence (the waters cutting Antarctica off from the rest of the planet) is ``the longest and most important biological barrier on earth''; Antarctica ``is the windiest place on earth''; the continent's dry valleys are ``the simplest of Earth's ecosystems.'' Fossils excite Campbell's fancy (he wonders if we might find similar remains on Mars, with its Antarctic-like climate), as do ornithology and plate tectonics. He deplores seal and whale hunting as ``carnage,'' and he frets about the Antarctic blue whale, now protected but perhaps too decimated to repopulate. Yet Campbell seems to appreciate the economic motives behind the great age of Antarctic hunting, and he admits to some edginess about Greenpeace- -a nuanced position that reflects his firm grasp of the lovely, impossibly tangled web of Antarctic life. Fits nicely alongside Stephen Pyne's The Ice (1986) on the very slim shelf of first-rate Antarctic natural histories.

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1992
ISBN: 0-395-58969-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1992