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The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions [Paperback]

David Quammen
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 14 1997
David Quammen's book, The Song of the Dodo, is a brilliant, stirring work, breathtaking in its scope, far-reaching in its message -- a crucial book in precarious times, which radically alters the way in which we understand the natural world and our place in that world. It's also a book full of entertainment and wonders.
In The Song of the Dodo, we follow Quammen's keen intellect through the ideas, theories, and experiments of prominent naturalists of the last two centuries. We trail after him as he travels the world, tracking the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses nothing less than the study of the origin and extinction of all species. Why is this island idea so important? Because islands are where species most commonly go extinct -- and because, as Quammen points out, we live in an age when all of Earth's landscapes are being chopped into island-like fragments by human activity.
Through his eyes, we glimpse the nature of evolution and extinction, and in so doing come to understand the monumental diversity of our planet, and the importance of preserving its wild landscapes, animals, and plants. We also meet some fascinating human characters. By the book's end we are wiser, and more deeply concerned, but Quammen leaves us with a message of excitement and hope.

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Product Description

From Amazon

In a wonderful weave of science, metaphor, and prose, David Quammen, author of The Flight of the Iguana, applies the lessons of island biogeography - the study of the distribution of species on islands and islandlike patches of landscape - to modern ecosystem decay, offering us insight into the origin and extinction of species, our relationship to nature, and the future of our world. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Quammen (Natural Acts) has successfully mixed genres in this highly impressive and thoroughly enjoyable work. The scientific journalism is first-rate, with the extremely technical field of island biogeography made fully accessible. We learn how the discipline developed and how it has changed conservation biology. And we learn just how critical this field is in the face of massive habitat destruction. The book is also a splendid example of natural history writing, for which Quammen traveled extensively. The Channel Islands off California and the Madagascan lemurs are captivatingly portrayed. Equally impressive are the character studies of the scientists who have been at the forefront of island biogeography. From his extended historical analysis of the journeys and insights of 19th-century biologist Alfred Russell Wallace to his field and laboratory interviews with many of the men and women who have followed in Wallace's intellectual wake, Quammen delightfully adds the human dimension to his discussion of science and natural history. Using a canvas as large as the world, he masterfully melds anecdotes about swimming elephants, collecting fresh feces from arboreal primates in Brazil and searching for the greater bird of paradise on the tiny island of Aru into an irreverent masterpiece. That a book on so technical a subject could be so enlightening, humorous and engaging is an extraordinary achievement. Author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, entertaining, and important April 26 2002
*The Song of the Dodo* is a very long book on what some of us believe to be a vitally important subject, the ongoing loss of worldwide bioversity. Anyone interested in the fate of the world's wild creatures and yes, the fate of the world itself should read it and will likely enjoy it.
David Quammen does an exemplary job of leading his readers through almost two centuries of significant ideas and debates related to "island biogeography," a subject which is a lot more interesting and certainly a lot more significant than it might sound. Begining with the fascinating story of the Darwin vs. Wallace story vis-a-vis "who really came up with the theory of evolution first?" Quammen goes on to explain and illustrate just why the biogeography of islands is so important to any consideration of biodiversity and wildlife conservation for the world as a whole.
In weaving this historical narrative, Quammen doesn't just encapsulate theories (though he does this in some detail), he takes his reader into the field where the sometimes abstract principles behind diversity/rarity/extinction are actually demonstrated through the predicaments faced by various creatures. Quammen ventures to the Aru Islands, the Galapagos, Madagascar, Guam, Tasmania, Mauritius, Barro Colorado Island in Panama, the Amazonian rain forest, and on and on. It's a veritable world tour of places where rare and endangered animals struggle for existence in a world where human encroachment is causing an alarming acceleration in the rate of species extinction.
Through his mostly fascinating discussion of places, species, and biologeographical theories and the people behind those theories, Quammen shows an unusual ability to restate abstruse ideas in clear and understandable terms.
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5.0 out of 5 stars From Anecdotes to Science March 11 2004
This is a terrific read on important biological questions which lie in the scientific stratum far above the world of molecular biology, which has come to dominate so much of the field, almost to the point of extinguishing the venerable methods of systematics, evolution, and field studies of actual organisms. Quammen transports us into a world where interactions of animals in real ecological systems are the object of study, charming us into seeing its importance, and introducing us to the people who are working to advance our understanding of the natural world.
The central theme of the book is the importance that islands have played in this area of research, starting from the work of Darwin and Wallace, extending to the modern work of men such as E. O. Wilson, Macarthur, Simberloff, and Lovejoy. What is revealed is a science progressing from anecdotes and scattered observations of curiosities to something with its own generalizations and laws that can be have an increasing certainty, backed by sound statistical studies, and that produces graphs and tables, equations, useful computer models and testable hypotheses. The majesty of the process is astounding.
Quammen writes clearly and spares no effort to involve the reader, mixing a historical treatment of the process, interviews of the modern players, and his own thrilling explorations of the remote islands--he splendidly communicates his excitement and involvement.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, important book. Dec 18 2003
I don't usually write reviews of books that already have a bunch here, but this book is important enough to make an exception.
I forget now how I came across this book, but I'm glad I did. Quammen writes in very clear prose, keeps the story moving, and provides a wealth of detail. If I were the editor, I might have shortened some of the personal accounts, but that's about the strongest criticism I can come up with.
The book explicates the theory of island biogeography, the theory of islands are where species develop, and that in a larger sense, continents are both islands and collections of islands. It's much more complicated than that, but I don't read thousand-word reviews, so I shouldn't write one.
The book is complete, and very well thought out. Midway through the book, as he's discussing species extinctions, I'm thinking, why doesn't he talk about the passenger pigeon? And, in the next chapter he does.
One of the things he does is remind us of WHY the theory of evolution became unavoidable to a generation of people trained in Biblical literalism (Darwin himself was a Anglican seminary graduate, and took his voyage on the Beagle before settling down as a parish priest.) There's a "movement" nowadays which purports to prove that there's no real evidence for evolution, that It's really a lie told by Bible-hating scientists. If this book did nothing but dispel that myth, it would be worth reading. (a synopsis of his account would take me a couple of pages.) But it does more, so much more that.
A modern book discussing extinctions must almost inevitably be depressing, but he manages to close the book with a note of hope, almost triumph.
Read this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Overview on Extinctions Sept. 30 2003
Why do extinctions happen? By way of answering this question, David Quammen takes an odyssey around the world to numerous islands because they are where most of the world's extinctions have taken place in modern times. He visits Indonesia, Tasmania, Hawaii, the Galapagos, Madagascar, Guam, and the former home of the now-extinct Dodo, Mauritius. As Quammen travels, he recounts the history that islands have played in the science of biology, from Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin's famous journeys to the recent dust-up over the new and increasingly popular theories in ecology that were based on the study of islands. Finally, he explains that the rapid rate of island extinctions may be a harbinger for what happens elsewhere as man increasingly cuts up and divides the world into "islands" of biodiversity.
This book does an outstanding job of mixing history, basic ecological concepts, and personal experience into a coherent theme. I recently read Quammen's book "Monsters of God" and I found this book superior in every way because of that coherence. And while I agree with some Amazon reviewers who find fault in Quammen's views on the controversy over whether Darwin or Wallace deserved first credit for the concept of natural selection, I don't think it detracts from the book. Quammen clearly finds something dishonorable in Darwin's actions during that period, but after reading two biographies on Wallace - Shermer and Raby's recent publications - I think he reads too much into it. This noticeable prejudice of Quammen's, however, is not directly relevant to his main themes and shouldn't keep anyone from enjoying this wonderful work.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been worse but could also be better
I had to read this book for a biodiversity class. Overall the anecdotes are nice and the important terms are well defined but I found the reading redudant. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Student
5.0 out of 5 stars WONDERFUL BOOK
David Quammen brilliantly blends fascinating personal travel stories with scientific theories of Island Biogeography in this work. Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2010 by ReadQuality
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book, Intricate Subject
"Song of the Dodo" is a big book (over 600 pages) about a big subject, but it never feels long or rambling. Read more
Published on June 5 2003 by LycaonPictus
5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable novel for anyone concerned about the earths fate
The Song of the Dodo is a charming and inspirational yet detailed and informative depiction of the origin, route and future of civilisaton. Read more
Published on April 18 2003 by Debby Ng
2.0 out of 5 stars well-written but flawed
... As someone who has spent nearly a quarter of a century studying birds on islands I normally welcome new insights on the subject, especially when they are written in a... Read more
Published on April 1 2003 by John Anderson
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book on its subject
I read the chapters pertaining to the Galapagos from this excellent new book by Outside magazine writing star, Quammen. Read more
Published on Jan. 26 2003 by Glen Engel Cox
1.0 out of 5 stars ?!
All in all not a bad book but... why did Quammen feel he had to include all the darwin bashing in the first chapter? Read more
Published on Aug. 18 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful, entertaining, and important
*The Song of the Dodo* is a very long book on what some of us believe to be a vitally important subject, the ongoing loss of worldwide bioversity. Read more
Published on April 26 2002 by Douglas A. Greenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT...
It's the best book I've ever read. It motivated me to investigate more about the topic. Being born and raised in an island, I always knew they were special, but I didn't know they... Read more
Published on Dec 19 2001 by "melidavila"
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