franzJosephLand2Quammen makes his way across a basaltic scree field in Franz Joseph Land in the Russian Arctic. Read his blog post about the 2013 Pristine Seas Expedition sponsored by National Geographic. Photograph by Andy Mann.

David Quammen is an author and journalist whose books include The Song of the Dodo (1996), The Reluctant Mr. Darwin (2006), and  Spillover (2014), a work on the science, history, and human impacts of emerging diseases (especially viral diseases), which was short-listed for eight national and international awards and won three.  More recently he has released two short books drawn from Spillover and updated to stand alone: Ebola (2014) and The Chimp and the River (2015). In the past thirty years he has also published a few hundred pieces of short nonfiction—feature articles, essays, columns—in magazines such as Harper’s, National Geographic, Outside, Esquire, The Atlantic, Powder, and Rolling Stone.  He writes occasional Op Eds for The New York Times and reviews for The New York Times Book Review.  Quammen has been honored with an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is a three-time recipient of the National Magazine Award.  He is a Contributing Writer for National Geographic, in whose service he travels often, usually to wild and remote places.  Home is Bozeman, Montana.

Throughout the rest of this website, he will not refer to himself in the third person.





YELLOWSTONE: The Book Version

In August, National Geographic Books published my latest book, Yellowstone: A Journey through America’s Wild Heart. The origins of this project lie in my longtime relationship with National Geographic Magazine, and my 32 years’ residence in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and are worth describing.

In May 2016, National Geographic published a special issue, devoted entirely to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and its iconic place within America’s perception of the natural world. The occasion was the centennial of the National Park Service (1916-2016), which the magazine is celebrating with a number of parks-related stories throughout the year and this all-Yellowstone issue as the crescendo. The editor-in-chief who conceived the Yellowstone project, Chris Johns, gave me the assignment—a flattering opportunity, a daunting responsibility—of writing the whole text. It was, I’ve been told, though I haven’t checked the archives, the first time in the 128-year history of National Geographic that a single author was invited to write a complete issue. The research took me two years, off and on, during which I was also researching a very different literary effort, my Tree of Life book for Simon & Schuster (forthcoming next year). For the Yellowstone issue, I interviewed a broad range of scientists and other people, traveled throughout the ecosystem, and got to parts of the Yellowstone backcountry (by horse, by foot, on skis, and by bush plane and helicopter) that I’d never seen before. What I finally produced was a 15,000-word essay on a topic I framed as “Yellowstone: the Paradox of the Cultivated Wild.” The title as published was slightly different, but that was the guiding concept.

My text was matched in the issue with brilliant images by a large team of National Geographic photographers (led by Nick Nichols), expert maps and graphics, sidebars and captions by my friend and colleague Todd Wilkinson, and the superb work of many other members of the National Geographic team. The issue sold out quickly at newsstands across the country, and has since, for those who missed it, become hard to acquire. But in the meantime we have turned it into a book.

At the request of my National Geographic editors, I expanded the original magazine text, almost doubling its length. To do that, I restored some passages cut earlier for reasons of space, and I wrote several new sections on aspects of the subject that I had always considered relevant and interesting, but for which in the magazine there hadn’t been room. The book gave me a wonderful chance to present this fuller treatment. For instance, I added sections on social attitudes toward wolves; on the unexpected connections among grizzlies, elk, wolves and earthworms at Heart Lake; on Yellowstone as an island ecosystem and the implications of island biogeography; and on the importance of large private ranches as components of Greater Yellowstone. And I tried to reaffirm a point underlying the original version: Yellowstone is a big national park, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is bigger still, but the ideas and values that these places represent—the decisions and commitments they demand—are as big as America itself.

The result is Yellowstone: A Journey Through America’s Wild Heart, containing my enlarged text and a rich assemblage of amazing photography—more than could be offered in the magazine. If you still want to read the historic May issue, and your subscription had lapsed, and you missed it on the newsstands, your best option, I suppose, is to spend an extra half-hour in your dentist’s waiting room before your next appointment. (Or read it on this website.) Better still, though, you can lay hands on the new hardback, a beautiful package for the eye and (I hope) a stimulating incentive to deeper appreciation and understanding of America’s first national park. It becomes available on August 23, wherever books are sold, at a price far more appealing than root canal.




The Chimp and the River



The Reluctant Mr. Darwin

Monster of God

The Song of the Dodo


Natural Acts

The Boilerplate Rhino

Wild Thoughts from Wild Places

The Flight of the Iguana


Blood Line

The Soul of Viktor Tronko

The Zolta Configuration

To Walk the Line


On the Origin of Species

by Charles Darwin

The Illustrated Edition

The Best American Science

and Nature Writing 2000

Edited with Burkhard Bilger


  • Paris Is a Museum

    March 23, 2017
                I saw it coming, almost, before it came.  I had a few seconds of murky premonition.  And then bingo: a gentle sort of mugging—just a team pickpocket play, really, with downfield blocking—which was halfway clever, and nearly worked.  Fortunately, I scuffled and I squawked.  Even more fortunately, these small-time thieves weren’t carrying knives or guns or attitude.  This was Paris, after all, city of grace and light.

    IMG 3966

                It happened in the Réaumur-Sébastopol Metro station, while I was connecting in from the airport, riding a long crowded escalator toward my next train.  Standing beside me was a little guy I thought I recognized.  Hmm, wasn’t this the same fellow who, five minutes earlier, had accosted me smarmily, as I gawked at a map, asking if he could help me find my way?  I had brushed him off, not rudely, and now here he was again, by strange coincidence, lurking like an innocent stranger at my elbow.  Too fishy.  I didn’t like that.  But what I didn’t notice yet was that he had a comrade just in front of me and a comrade or two right behind.  They had spotted me, from that first encounter, as easily as if I wore a sign on my back: I’m an American doofus, with a roll-aboard suitcase and a shoulder bag, and I don’t know just precisely where I’m going.  Hey, why not rob me?  When the front man caused a congestion, with a dropped-coins gambit at the escalator dismount point, and we all got bunched, I felt my wallet rise out of my back pocket like it was levitating.
                Here’s what you do in that situation.  You grab instantly at your right buttock, and you holler.  You spin around, addressing the perps and everybody else on that stretch of escalator, and you holler some more: Who’s got my wallet?!  You start pushing and snatching at the guys you guess to be responsible, yanking at their arms, trying to see their hands, hoping to impede their escape, which is impossible.  People stare.  A few onlookers scowl and tisk at you like you’re a lunatic or a boor and, worse still, one shouting in American English.  A few others, who’ve seen what happened, understand completely.  The three thieves, or maybe it’s four—they instantly melt away.  And then, if you are very lucky, someone steps aside and says: Voila, monsieur, votre portefeuille.  And indeed there it is, yes, your wallet—on the ground, surfing the escalator like flotsam.  You have managed, if only barely, to bust the play.
                This was me.  This was Tuesday.  I was the chump who got angry and lucky at the Réaumur-Sébastopol station.
                It was a bad start to a good week.  Within an hour I was safely settled at my hotel, a nice place in the 17th arrondissement not far from the Porte de Champerret.   Next morning at 8 a.m. I met the contact I’d come to see, a scientist named Thierry Heidmann, whose work on the evolutionary significance of captured retroviruses in the human genome is as fascinating—in my view, anyway—as anything currently being done in biology.  We rode in his little white Volkswagen through the heart of Paris toward his lab, at the Institute Gustave Roussy on the south edge of the city.  Traffic wasn’t bad, and along the way Dr. Heidmann pointed out some sights: There’s the church de la Madeleine, this is the Place de la Concorde, the Louvre on our left as we cross the Seine, Notre Dame of course just upriver, then to the Boulevard Saint Germain, passing the Sorbonne, and over there the École Normale Supérieur, where he went to school as a kid.  This man, every day, makes perhaps the world’s most elegant commute.  At the institute, we talked for six hours about retrovirus genes that become human genes, a rich opportunity for me, a generous gift of time and patience by him; and he bought me lunch.  What’s not to like?  Then I returned across the city by Metro, in this case without mishap, and was back at my hotel by five--in time for a glass of wine and a salad at a brasserie just across the way, where I sat writing further notes.
                My mission was accomplished, but I had another day in town, a cushion day, for pure pleasure.  Should I visit a museum, go to a famous gallery, hit one of the other iconic spots of cultural tourism?  One voice in my head said yes, but another said: Naw, let's just walk.  So I spent the day doing what I always most enjoy in Paris: hoofing across the city, getting lost, getting unlost, eating wherever and seeing whatever serendipity brings.  I took along an umbrella and my trusty booklet of Paris maps.
                From the hotel I headed east on Avenue de Villiers and followed my nose to Rue de Levis, a small cobbled street, mostly for pedestrians, lined with fruit stalls and flower dealers and little bistros.  Rue de Levis has been a favorite of mine since the early 2000s, when I spent many layover days hereabouts, at cheap hotels in the 17th, while on my way to other wondrous but less comfortable places, such as Romania and the Congo.  From Levis I picked up another little lane, Rue des Dames, which took me across the big artery of train tracks leading into the Gare Saint-Lazare.  On another bridge I crossed above the great cemetery of Montmartre, then started hoofing up Montmartre itself.  Stopped for a late lunch at a brasserie halfway up: hot chevre salad and wine.  Walking fuel, not enough to slow a person down.  By now it was drizzling and I deployed the umbrella.  Atop the hill I admired the three domes of Sacre Coeur, again, but didn't go inside.  Now I was back amid the surge and flow of tourists, and from atop the great stairway we all gazed out over the city, misty and sublime.  Below was the carrousel and the crepe stands and the souvenir shops and the postcard racks at the base of the funicular lift.  Not my favorite spot, but part of the whole, and I was far too aware of being a tourist myself to feel any condescension about tourism.  I was here for no purpose but to watch people and admire architecture and browse the corridors of community and commerce.  I kept walking and once more got quite lost, heading north instead of west, until I had marched almost to the Porte de Saint-Ouen.  So much for following my nose.  The street angles can be tricky.  It's not a square grid, like Chicago or Minneapolis.  But I had my maps.
                I made a nine or ten mile loop, just enough to build an appetite for dinner.  Caught my breath at the hotel, changed to a dry shirt, did some work.  Later in the evening, I treated myself to a good meal, of soup and duck and Bordeaux, at a place overlooking the roundabout at Place du Marechal Juin.  Now it was raining steadily--a cold, steady spring rain.  Seated cozy and warm by the window, I watched runnels pour off the awning.  Beyond, cars and pedestrians and lights.  I suppose I hadn't "improved" myself culturally, but it was a fine day.  Who needs museums.  Paris is a museum.



EBOLA: The Natural and Human History of a Deadly Virus



SPILLOVER: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic



THE CHIMP AND THE RIVER: How AIDS Emerged from an African Forest