The Song of the Dodo, published in 1996 by Scribner, is a book of history, science, and travel. It's an investigation of a field known as island biogeography, which in its narrow meaning denotes the study of the evolution, distribution, and extinction of living species on islands, and in its broader sense applies to the survival or extinction of species throughout the world, as wild landscapes on the mainlands become increasingly chopped up, by human activities, into island-like fragments. Island biogeography began with Charles Darwin in the Galápagos, or even earlier, and developed eventually into a conceptual framework for understanding the impacts of humans on biological diversity, giving rise to the science of conservation biology. If this sounds purely sober and recondite, please don't be misled. As I say at the start of the book: "Island biogeography, I'm happy to report, is full of cheap thrills."
Dodo was awarded the John Burroughs Medal, the New York Public Library/Helen Bernstein Award, and (in Britain) the BP Natural World Book Prize. It was listed as one of eight "Editors Choice" honorees by The New York Times Book Review for 1996. The editors, bless their hearts, declared:
"Very seldom is science written like this. Mr. Quammen is not a professional environmentalist or a scientist. He is an accomplished essayist and a novelist and his book is a richly elaborated work of literary craftsmanship full of roaring adventures, madcap flights of imagination and people wilder than the animals they stalk with him. He is intelligent, playful, and free of cant, so his bad news unaccountably lifts us up, making us rejoice in the ornery strangeness and amazing vitality of nature. Islands, even while they put species in danger, are, to use his words, the flywheels of evolution, and as he makes us see the giddy fecundity of nature he induces a smile again and again over our very fragility."
--The New York Times Book Review
December 8, 1996
The saltwater crocodile, the Siberian tiger, the Asian lion (yes, there are lions in Asia), and the brown bear share one thing in common: All four are predators big enough, fierce enough, and solitary enough such that one individual can, and occasionally does, kill and eat a human. That puts them in a special category--a psychological category if not an ecological one--that I call the alpha predators. This book explores the ancient, fraught relationships between such predators and people, especially the people who live in close contact with them, and the implications of their terrifying, majestic presence for the way we perceive our own place in the world.
"Quammen, one of those extraordinary writers who can wring all the blood-wet drama out of science without ever resorting to mysticism or melodrama, here tracks man-eaters through history and legend, then deep into their present domains."
Have you ever wondered why people eat chicken eggs but not chicken sperm? I have, sorry to say, and the answer is offered in an essay titled "The Dope on Eggs." I'll give you a hint: anisogamy. More plainly put, the egg contains nutriment, whereas the sperm contains only information. But it took me a week of library research plus a visit to a chicken farm in Three Forks, Montana, to figure that out.
The pieces in this collection are drawn entirely from the latter years of my column in Outside. The book, published by Scribner in 2000, won the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamonstein Award for the Art of the Essay.
"[Quammen] is the only nature writer who makes you laugh out loud."
--Mike Weilbacher, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Thanks, Mike. I owe you a Macallan.
Blood Line contains three longish short stories, one of which, "Walking Out," appeared also in American Short Story Masterpieces (1987), edited by Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks.
"All of these stories feature perfectly squared-off endings, prose of surpassing precision, and the considerable psychological energy that stories of fathers and sons generate. . . . It's a pleasure to read the work of someone who takes almost visible pleasure in writing."
"Hard and soft at once, like teeth and tongue, is Mr. Quammen's mind; both qualities are required for these nifty articulations on all those beings that aren't us."
--Tom Ferrell, The New York Times Book Review
"Only a handful of American writers have a real sense of the dark business of secret intelligence. David Quammen is one of them."
--Thomas Powers, author of The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA
You can purchase books by David Quammen at the following locations: