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The Eighth Continent: On the Trail of the Extraordinary in Madagascar [Hardcover]

Peter Tyson , Russell A. Mittermeier
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 18 2000

Since the age of dinosaurs, Madagascar has thrived in isolation off the east coast of Africa. In this real-life "lost world," hundreds of animal and plant species, most famously the lemurs, have evolved here and only here, while other creatures extinct elsewhere for tens of millions of years now vie with modern man for survival. It's a land of striking geography, from soaring mountains to vast canyon lands, from tropical rain forests to spiny desert. And its people are a conundrum unto themselves, their origins obscure, their language complex and distinct, and their beliefs fascinating. In The Eighth Continent, Peter Tyson will guide you into this, the planet's most exotic frontier, so you can see for yourself why it's been called "the naturalist's promised land."

Part scientific exploration, part adventure saga, part cultural and historical narrative, The Eighth Continent follows Tyson's journeys with four scientific experts as they explore the fourth-largest island in the world:A herpetologist with a pied piper call to reptiles who has discovered and collected more Malagasy species than any other biologist-and continues to discover more every yearA paleoecologist searching an enormous cavern complex for clues as to why the island's megafauna-Galipagos-sized tortoises, lemurs as big as apes, ten-foot-tall birds, and pygmy hippos, among others-all died out less than two millennia agoAn archeologist trying to answer the most basic and puzzling question about the Malagasy people: Where did they come from?A primatologist who studies elusive jungle lemurs even as she strives to prevent the island's total ecological destruction

For if Madagascar is one of the most fascinating environments on the planet, it is also one of the most endangered. As the Malagasy hack a subsistence from the island's dwindling forests, they also threaten its diverse habitats and its rich biological diversity. It is not an easy situation to resolve, nor is it easy to answer the burning question at its heart: Can Madagascar be saved? In The Eighth Continent, Peter Tyson navigates this tortuous path as he delves into the island's storied interior as well as its misty past.


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From Amazon

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

From Publishers Weekly

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.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IT IS MY FIRST NIGHT EVER in Madagascar, and just like that, my prayers are being answered. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars truly excellent natural history and travel book Feb. 28 2001
Format:Hardcover
This is a truly great book, very well written, well researched, and a joy to read. Tyson shows us a virtual continent that is largey unknown to the rest of the world, home to bizarre wildlife found nowhere else on earth and enigmas that still confound researchers. Tyson addresses many issues relating to Madagascar. Why are so many plants and animals unique to Madagascar? Why did they speciate so wildly? How did they get there to begin with? Describing in detail the extinct megafauna of Madagascar - giant lemurs, giant tortoises, pygmy hippos, and the mighty elephant bird - he addresses issues of how they lived, research relating to them, and how they became extinct - if all of them are indeed extinct, as some may still exist in unexplored corners of the giant island.
Tyson also addresses the history of the island, from its original settlement apparently around the time of Christ to the present day. The origin of the Malagasy people is still a mystery, and Tyson explores Indonesian, Africa, and Arabian (as well as later European) influxes and influences on the island, not only in terms of history and archeology but also religion, culture, society, psychology, and how the people of the island make a living. The Malagasy are a fascinating blend of Indonesian, African, and Arabian peoples, showing diverse traits from these cultures and providing a continual mystery to researchers.
Tyson closes the book with a detailed and comprehensive look at the effort to save the last wild areas of Madagascar. Showing how a new national park is working, he shows that much has been accomplished on the island, but much remains to be done, and the preservation effort is fraught with peril.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating glimpse of a true "lost world" June 25 2001
Format:Hardcover
Madagascar is like Australia in some ways - a sort of zoological attic, filled with animals the rest of the world forgot about or never met. Tyson has probed the fauna of this island for many years, and his doscoveries, adventures, and insights make for a most informative book. Some of the most interesting passages deal with his inquiries into animals reported by some of the indigenous people but not yet confirmed by science. Tyson doesn't take all the animal stories he hears at face value, but he doesn't discount them, either. He believes we have more to learn about the creatures of this island - and we must learn it quickly. Development and other pressures are eroding the island's biodiversity at a frightening rate. Tyson conveys that urgency along with the wonder of this unique and special place.
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Format:Hardcover
Madagascar in my mind has always been one those wild exotic places. This book does a very good job of introducing the place and providing insights into wildlife, culture, orgins, and a possible plan for the future of conservation in Madagascar. It reads well and doesn't bog down very often. The chapters about the herps of Madagascar were my favorite, but I am biased towards herps. The conservation issues are presented in a balanced way, and the opposing opinions about the success or failure of the Community development/national park conservation plans are pretty well explained. I recommend this book to anybody wanting to learn more about Madagascar, it is a great introduction would be a worthwhile read if you wanted to travel to Madagascar and be more than just a bumbling tourist.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Introduction to Madagascar Dec 26 2001
Format:Paperback
I have come away from this book with a strong desire to visit Madagascar and a good understanding of the country's wonders and challenges. In a very entertaining style recounting his travels and sharing tales of the island's lore, Peter Tyson gives us an overview of both the Malagasy people and fauna ( and somtimes flora ) and how they relate in light of its conservation issues. He also outlines the limited knowledge that exists as to how this unique island has come to be so different from anywhere else on Earth, opening the scope for unlimited wonder and whetting a thirst to find out more. A great starting point for an interest in Madagascar and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
I would recommend reading Mike Eveleigh's, Maverick in Madagascar, after this.
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5.0 out of 5 stars PUTTING MADAGASCAR ON THE MAP FOR EVERYONE ! Feb. 26 2001
Format:Hardcover
I can't more heartily recommend this book if you have even a smidgeon of interest or curiosity in Madagascar! No nature writer has yet compiled so much information into such a readable format. The author tends to veer off his researcher accounts into side topics with regularity, all the while skillfully relating them and never failing to lead us back into his main subject. The way he weaves the history and culture of the Malagasy people into his narratives is clever and accurate. If you are considering a personal visit to what is truly the last 'Lost World' on our planet, absorbing the information in this superb work is the single best way that I can suggest to prepare for the experience!
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