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Ghost With Trembling Wings [Paperback]

Scott Weidensaul
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 26 2003 0865476683 978-0865476684 First Edition
“A thoughtful examination of the machinery of extinction . . . By turns harrowing and elegiac, thrilling and informative.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Three or four times an hour, eighty or more times a day, a unique species of plant or animal vanishes forever. And yet, every so often one of these lost species resurfaces. “Having adventures most of us can only dream about” (The Times-Picayune), Scott Weidensaul pursues stories of loss and recovery, of endurance against the odds, and of surprising resurrections.

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From Publishers Weekly

Approximately 30,000 species of animals and plants go extinct every year. Weidensaul's narrative concerns those rare occurrences when a supposedly extinct animal makes a surprise reappearance, and the much more frequent occasions when scientists or civilians only think they've sighted a vanished creature. His suspenseful naturalist detective stories take readers all over the globe to Madagascar, Indonesia, Peru, Costa Rica in search of these lost species. In the swamplands of Louisiana, the author and his guide brave swarming mosquitoes and deadly vipers to check out reports of an ivory-billed woodpecker. Weidensaul (Living on the Wind) recounts famous success stories, like the recovery of the coelacanth, a fish believed to be extinct for about 80 million years until fishermen landed one off the coast of South Africa in 1938, as well as various wild goose chases and his own obsessive search for the South American cone-billed tanager. Along the way, he shows how humans and nature have unwittingly conspired to condemn animals to oblivion, such as the dozens of Great Lakes fish species lost to overfishing and the inadvertent introduction of parasitic lampreys from canals built in the 19th century. For the most part, though, Weidensaul's gracefully written book strikes a hopeful note, reveling in the exhilaration of the searches themselves: the greatest gift these lost creatures give this too-fast, too-small, too-modern world [is] an opportunity for hope. Illus. and maps not seen b.
- an opportunity for hope. Illus. and maps not seen by
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Every so often a species thought to be extinct is rediscovered and officially brought back from the dead. Weidensaul, author of the lyrical Living on the Wind (1999), opens with his search for a lost bird in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, a search for a tiny gray warbler whose song was not even known to science. Other hunts for supposedly extinct animals follow: for the Australian night parrot, rediscovered as a flattened roadkill in 1990; for the Indian forest owlet, museum specimens of which were found to have fraudulent location data; for the possible cloning of extinct species such as the mammoth; and even for proof of cryptozoological species like the Loch Ness monster. He offers a wonderfully succinct treatise on the causes of extinction, the use of such protective laws as the Endangered Species Act, the politics of state versus federal agencies, and the role of captive breeding in endangered species conservation. Weidensaul is a graceful writer who works an amazing amount of scientific theory into his narrative. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Becoming Unextinct Dec 11 2002
Format:Hardcover
This is a very unique book about mankind's relationship with endangered and extinct species, from both a naturalist and ethical perspective. As more and more species become extinct through the actions of humans, sightings of supposedly extinct creatures remain common. Is this because those animals really aren't extinct, with small populations still surviving in remote locations; or is it just wishful thinking? Weidensaul finds some of both in this book. Some regions of the world are still so remote that they are yielding new species (even some large mammals like in Southeast Asia) and revealing survivors of animals that were thought to be extinct. On the other hand, people may think they see romantic and mythical creatures out of subconscious longing for a world that is still mysterious and dangerous, and maybe even evolutionary guilt for destroying species forever. A related issue to that subconscious longing is the creatures of cyrptozoology, which explains the never-ending reports of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. Weidensaul dwells both on the ethical issues behind such wishful thinking, and also on the real science of bringing species back from the brink. He examines the ethics of using genetic engineering and cloning to save endangered species - and recreating extinct species, a new craze of questionable value. Weidensaul also takes us on entertaining searches for supposedly extinct creatures that have a reasonable chance of still existing, like the cone-billed tanager in Brazil or the strange thylacine in Tasmania. The only problem here is Weidensaul's lack of closure on many of the ethical issues that he raises, but this book is still a rewarding look into mankind's always complicated relationship with nature.
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Format:Hardcover
Scott Weidensaul has written a fascinating, page-turning exploration of the complexities of species survival and extinction. From the first chapter, a narrative account of his personal search for the probably extinct Semper's Warbler on St. Lucia, to the last chapter where he may, or may not, have found the never before seen female cone-billed tanager, this book never let go of my imagination. Most of the sought-after species in this book are never found, but a few, such as the coelacanth and the almost-aurochs, are. The author looks for big cats rumored to be living in the English countryside, and tells of the accidental rediscovery of the Australian night parrot. He provides one of the few intelligent treatises on the Loch Ness Monster and other cryptobiological "species." Even though most possibly extinct animals are never found, it's the hunt for them that excites both the author and the reader. The often suspenseful narrative is peppered with history and sharp observations as well as varied opinions. The language is rich with visual and engaging details, the kind that makes you feel as though you've entered into the "land of the lost." Trust me, you won't fall asleep reading this book. This is lay science as it should be, full of mysteries and questions, both accessible and intelligent. The author's good humor and pithy insights lend a friendly tone to his science. For example, when he is fighting insects - in his ears, eyes, and under his watch band - during a frantic search for a specific flock of birds, he writes, "There is a reason lost species are lost in the first place. Sometimes the reasons are weighty and formidable, like civil unrest, impenetrable mountains, or bandit warlords who use visitors for target practice. Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating narrative July 28 2002
Format:Hardcover
Weidensaul's book is at once a narrative of his searches for lost species and an educational piece on science, genetics, environmental impact and a dozen other areas that affect the habitat and adaptability of various animal species. "The Ghost with Trembling Wings" examines all the possible scenarios when dealing with lost species. There are ample examples of a species declared extinct but suddenly one is captured, found, or sometimes a dead one found (as was the case of the Australian night parrot thought extinct for many years until one was found as roadkill). He also covers sightings of unknown creatures (Bigfoot, Loch Ness) as well as sightings of creatures whose very existence seems to depend more on the desire of the observer to see them than on anything else. All aspects of this area of research are covered including current directions in cloning, captive breeding, disease, and even the effect of the political climate.
Travel with Weidensaul as he goes to the most remote areas of the earth in search of lost species and provides an inside look into this field as well as those who would dedicate their lives to resurrecting the dead and lost. An fascinating book that anyone interested in the area of finding living specimens of "extinct" species would be sure to enjoy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Contagiously thrilling hunts June 16 2002
Format:Hardcover
Scott Weidensaul says early in this careful and remarkable book that he has "an untrained eye," but of course he's being much too humble. Weidensaul, an accomplished naturalist who seems also totally comfortable with people, traveled the globe for this book and he writes that the search for lost species is "a good deal more subtle than I'd originally realized." He calls the process of rediscovery "the many ways in which the lost come back from the grave," and explains that what at first may seem like the business of biology and science is in fact "enmeshed with human psychology, deep-seated desires, and the ways, accurate or imagined, in which we view our world." Later in his narrative he confesses that if he had one crack at a working time machine, he would without a doubt set it for "about twenty thousand years in the past." The last Ice Age would have had a terrific reporter in Weidensaul.
There is a variety of famous and not so famous little-known and in some cases "extinct" creatures (Bachman's Warbler on the island of St. Lucia, the ivory-billed woodpecker, the Australian night parrot, the golden toad, and more) to be written about. Weidensaul delves into theories of hybridization, cloning, and numerous current issues in nature and science. As to the discovery of obscure or assumed-vanished species, he writes that finding an unknown plant or animal is not difficult since "the roughly one million species that scientists have named and catalogued may represent only a tenth to a thirtieth of the planet's total biota." For example, never-before catalogued species of birds emerge from the famously shrinking tropics at the rate of one or two per year.
His stories combine reportage and layman's science with historical narrative.
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