Lying some 250 miles off the east coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world's fourth-largest island. It is quite unlike the neighbouring continent, and, for that matter, quite unlike any other landmass on the planet. Its plant life is almost wholly endemic: eight out of ten plants there grow naturally only on Madagascar, and it has an entire ecosystem, the spiny desert, that is found nowhere else on earth. Many of its animal species, too, seem to have emerged from some evolutionary track that runs parallel to the rest of the world's; here can be found lemurs that will fit into a human palm, dwarf hippos, giant chameleons, and other rarities.
These plants and animals constitute an extraordinary diversity, writes science journalist Peter Tyson in this engaging book, and the island's richness of life has long intrigued scientists, who have proposed several theories to explain it. Those scientists, some of whom Tyson profiles at work in the field, are racing against time to catalogue island life before it disappears, for Madagascar's human population is rapidly growing, and with it the island's forests and other habitats are falling. The urgency may abate, Tyson writes with guarded optimism, now that the island's current president has proposed that all of Madagascar be considered as a United Nations World Heritage Site, which would help provide funds to prevent further loss of habitat and diversity. Though this proposal is not without its controversial aspect, Tyson makes a good case for why it should be taken up--and he shows just how high the stakes are.
Throughout his narrative, Tyson mixes scientific reportage with a nicely rendered travelogue that guides readers across the island while outlining key concepts of island biography and conservation biology. His book makes for a worthy companion to David Quammen's Song of the Dodo, and valuable reading for anyone concerned with the world environment. --Gregory McNamee
Combining travelogue, political discourse, ethnographic analysis and ecological exploration, this unusual book surveys an unusual subject: Madagascar, the world's fourth largest island. Situated only 250 miles off the coast of Africa, Madagascar is biologically unique. Not only does it have a rich animal and plant life, it also houses a huge number of endemic species found nowhere else on earth. Impressed with "the island's singular people. The striking beauty of the landscape. And the wonder of the wildlife," TysonAonline producer of NOVA and a veteran science writerAset out, four years ago, to make sense of the island's natural history. He visited four different scientists thereAa herpetologist, a paleoecologist, an archeologist and a primatologist. In this impressive volume, he writes about what he learned on these visits, successfully conveying both the flavor of field research and the biological mysteries of the island nation. Tyson reflects on questions of science (where did all these rare species come from?) as well as on more practical matters (how can a country that's so financially poor save its rich environmental resources?). He also presents engaging historical information and offers an exuberant discussion of the Malagasy language. Because Tyson tends to focus on his personal experiences, and he emphasizes wildlife over human life, the Malagasy people themselves regrettably remain in the background. Otherwise admirable, the book suffers for this absence. Agent, Theresa Park.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I'm a huge Madagascar fan and finiding books on one of my favorite places is a rare treat for me - this book is no exception. Read morePublished on July 6 2001
This book does what only the best narrative non-fiction can do, it takes us to places where we'll never go and fascinates us with tales of subjects that we never knew we cared... Read morePublished on June 14 2000