Kirkus Star


Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species
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Informed musings on humanity’s relationship with nature and the extinction of animal species.

Weidensaul, a devoted naturalist whose 1999 Living on the Wind: Across the Hemisphere with Migratory Birds was a Pulitzer finalist, guides the reader on a variety of lively quests for extinct or soon-to-be-extinct creatures. Indiana Jones–style, he seeks the rare Sempler’s warbler on the lush Caribbean isle of St. Lucia, tracks panthers across the English countryside, and endures heat, mud, and scorpions in search of Tasmania’s cone-billed tanager. Closer to home, he stalks the legendary ivorybilled woodpecker of bayou Louisiana. Weidensaul’s globe-trotting also turns up a splendid menagerie of human characters—birders, biologists, anthropologists, adventurers, river guides, livestock farmers—some of whom surpass even the author in their passion for the intricate mysteries and delights of the natural world. Weidensaul is wise enough to know that the belief that hard-to-find species are still out there somewhere is as important as the reality. In this vein, he delves into the science of cryptozoology, the study of such shadowy creatures as the Himalayan yeti and the Loch Ness Monster, and offers a sympathetic explanation as to why such mythical creatures persist in the human imagination. He discusses the loss of fierce “apex predators” such as grizzlies, wolves, and cougars, and the concerns about their reappearance or reintroduction, and devotes equal attention to a myriad of other animals as common as ferrets and prairie dogs, or as obscure as the Australian thylacine. He also gives an overview of some of the new science affecting the extinction issue, such as cloning. Weidensaul is an author with a nuanced appreciation for his subject, an environmentalist’s sense for the delicate balance between nature and human endeavor, and the ability to give vivid and lucid expression to his ideas. Like the best nature-writers, he succeeds at making scientific inquiry an adventure.

Fascinating. A delight for anyone interested in bird life and issues of extinction and endangerment.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-374-24664-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002


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