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Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-Extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things Hardcover – Sep 15 2015
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**Honorable Mention for Sigurd F. Olson Nature Writing Awards 2016**
**A Library Journal Best Book of 2015**
**A Christian Science Monitor Top 10 Book of September 2015**
"Deep and inquiring...O'Connor sets out to tell the story of the...species that face or have gone through extinction." ―Pacific Standard
"An extraordinary smorgasbord of cutting-edge science and thinking...[O'Connor] made me stop and think, again and again." ―Ashley Hay, The Australian
"This is a very important contribution to conservation, but even more importantly connects conservation and the current extinction crisis to deeper and broader themes concerning the human experience and the natural world." ―Dr. George Amato, Director of the Sackler Institute for Comparitive Genomics, American Museum of Natural History
"Will it one day be possible to bring a woolly mammoth or a Neanderthal back to life? If so, should we? How is climate change affecting the evolution and extinction of species?... Traveling the world from Kenya (in search of the white rhino) to a lab in California (where a geneticist is trying to resurrect the extinct passenger pigeon), O’Connor reports on the people and places on the front lines of what has become known as resurrection science." ―Simon Worrall, National Geographic
“What is a species worth, especially when its natural environment no longer exists? This question becomes the driving force behind journalist M.R. O’Connor’s new book, Resurrection Science… O’Connor offers a critical toolkit to help readers understand the challenges of wildlife preservation.” ―Christian Science Monitor
“A book as thought-provoking as it is fascinating.”―Booklist
“O’Connor skillfully negotiates her way through the thorny ethical issues involved in reinventing nature from DNA banks and frozen tissue samples…[has] a reporting-from-the-front-lines feel.” ―Library Journal
“At the intersection of conservation, technology and hope lie some of the most fascinating -- and often unsettling -- stories of the fight to preserve the world's natural heritage. In RESURRECTION SCIENCE, M.R. O'Connor plumbs the ways synthetic biology might recreate an extinct pigeon, a Hail-Mary gamble in Africa to save a vanishing toad with the world's biggest sprinkler system, and the bioethics of bringing living Neanderthals back to the 21st century. Rhinos, whales, panthers and a sacred crow inhabit this world of tantalizing and sometimes frightening prospects, which O'Connor navigates with journalistic skill and graceful prose.”―Scott Weidensaul, author of The Ghost with Trembling Wings and other books
"In a provocative and thoughtful new book, journalist M.R. O’Connor scrutinizes the earnest efforts of the conservation movement. She asks the hard questions. For what are we saving endangered species? For their own sake? To keep in a zoo? So our children can see one or two? But is a tiger in a zoo, with little room to roam and no prey to catch, really a tiger? Should we be retrieving the DNA of the extinct passenger pigeon or the charismatic woolly mammoth to try to rebreed them, in a bold attempt at rewilding, if we cannot also protect or recreate the habitat and resources on which they once lived ? O’Connor explores the ethics, benefits, and consequences of one of the most important biological movements today. This book should be required reading for anyone interesting in conservation." ―Pat Shipman, author of How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction
“In this gripping overview… the author examines the complex, high-tech, usually expensive, and often controversial efforts to save species in peril and even long-gone.” –Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
“Few topics in conservation are as dizzyingly futuristic as that of bringing extinct species back to life. M.R. O’Connor’s Resurrection Science steadily unwraps the technical wizardry of saving vanishing wildlife and then plumbs the strangest discipline of all: Promethean projects to raise passenger pigeons and perhaps even Neanderthals from the dead. A masterful explicator, O’Connor never loses sight of the moral weight and complexity of these aims, and this remarkable, important book makes gripping reading for anyone who cares about the end―or perhaps the beginning―of the world.”―Caroline Fraser, author of Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution
About the Author
M.R. O'Connor's reporting has appeared in Foreign Policy, Slate, The Atlantic, Salon, and The New Yorker. She has received support from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, The Nation Institute's Investigative Fund, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. A graduate of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, she lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This book was phenomenal. M.R. O’Connor did an excellent job of examining not only the question of extinction and the controversial subject of de-extinction (spearheaded by the fine people of <a href="http://longnow.org/revive/">Revive & Restore</a>), but of asking the very uncomfortable question ‘What is a species worth?’ What is it that makes a person decide that one species is worth saving over another, and is saving a species from extinction truly a worthwhile endeavor? Does everything have an intrinsic value?
The book is divided into 8 chapters, each focusing upon a different species either going extinct, or possibly being revived. For those interested the subjects of the chapters are as follows:
White Sands Pupfish
Northern Right Whales
Northern White Rhino
Each species discussed raises a different question regarding the course of extinction and conservation. Should we save or protect a species if doing so hurts the human community around it? At what point of hybridization does a species stop being what it originally was? If human interference is largely responsible for the differences between a species that has been fragmented – are they still the original endangered species? What can we do to protect endangered species we know very little about? What if breeding a creature in captivity ends up erasing the very behaviors that were the hallmark of the species? Would reviving a species artificially result in the same species? Is conservation on the ground more worth it than rescuing the genetic data?
These questions and more abound, and are examined from all angles. The result is a book that looks at the ethical questions beyond conservation in a way that I’ve seldom seen discussed. This book is vitally important, engaging, and thought provoking. I would like nothing more than to see this book in the hands of everyone involved in the environmental movements. It asks uncomfortable questions and raises troubling points that need to be raised.
I can’t emphasize enough how much I adored this text.
What surprised me the most was how the author led me on the unexpected journey to discover that how human culture values other species is shifting. And she does this by telling the stories of individual species: white rhinos, African toads, small desert fish, Atlantic right whales and even those we eliminated, like the passenger pigeon, whose flocks once blocked out the sun.
This is a book of fascinating side canyons. Maura very accessibly distills different disciplines (from different schools of philosophy to, yes, even quantum theory), offering different ways for us to think about our big 21st Century, very real choice...how biodiverse the Earth remains after the Anthropocene.
While all three begin with the same premise — that current mass extinction scientists say we’re all living through — and do to some extent overlap, each has its own particular angle. Kolbert’s gives a good sense of historical (on a geological timescale) context, explaining the first five events and then moving into current issues. Shapiro, meanwhile, is much more focused on de-extinction and in particular the detailed science behind it. O’Connor also discusses de-extinction, but focuses far less on the science and much more on the philosophy of the concept, exploring the idea through the prism of conservation ethics, balancing the abstract and abstruse segments with concrete case studies/examples of creatures on the knife’s edge of extinction. And more so than the other two, O’Connor seems more torn about the conflict between concern for nature/animals and compassion for one’s fellow human being, saying one of the questions at the core of conservation ethics is, “What is a species worth?”
The starting point for O’Connor’s sense of conflict was the discovery of a new species — a spray toad--at the base of a waterfall in Tanzania that held up construction of a major hydropower plant, where less than half of its city residents and only 2% of its rural inhabitants have access to electricity. As she writes, “I felt my own sympathy for the cause of conservation challenged by the little warty toad in electricity-starved Tanzania.” This prompts her to seek out Holmes Rolston III, whom she calls “the father of the field of environmental ethics.” Thus begins a journey that will take her across the world and back in time, either literally or through research, as she explores eight creatures, including the Southern White Rhino of Africa, the North Atlantic right whale, Florida panthers, the White Sands pupfish, the passenger pigeon, and even our own cousins the Neanderthal.
Along the way she examines basic questions such as what is a species (the complexity and multiplicity of answers may surprise you), how fast does evolution take place (another possibly surprising answer if you haven’t paid attention lately), is an extinct animal recovered by genetics the same animal, is an animal no longer in its natural habitat (because we’ve destroyed it) the same animal, does the possibility of de-extinction mean we will care less about conservation and preservation, do captive breeding programs or the possibility of de-extinction via genetics offer any hope, and others.
The excursion is fascinating, especially in that O’Connor focuses much more on the philosophical/ethical questions than I’ve seen in books on the same topic, though she never wends so far afield from the real world that the reader feels a sense of detachment. And while she does deal with the science, it is with a relatively light touch and the science-challenged will certainly have no difficulties.
Just as important, O’Connor never loses touch with the human side of things, offering up vividly sharp portraits of several important players, philosophers and scientists but especially the non-academics, such as the man who for decades was the best-known hunters of mountain lions in the Southwest and Mexico and who later became the go-to person for saving the Florida panthers, the widow whose personal project led to both a major archaeological find and an entire re-thinking of what happened with the North Atlantic right whale, or the wife who moved to one of the most remote places on the planet.
O’Connor’s passion for nature are evident throughout, which makes her balanced approach all the more impressive. The questions are deep, but the answers are few. At least so far. Instead, O’Connor leaves us to ponder on our own the ethics and morality of what is occurring and what is coming down the road, even as the science, and the extinctions, keep churning forward. A thoughtful, fascinating look at our world, our impact on it, and the choices we will soon be asked to make. Highly recommended on its own, and as part of the group of similarly themed books mentioned above.
(review first appeared on fantasyliterature.com)
The novel looks at extremely troubled Spray Toads whose natural habitat has been destroyed by human efforts. Spray Toads have helped humans understand the unintended effects of industrialization has on wildlife but also arises the question of when human development should be halted for environmental conservatism. The author also questions the moral implications when expensive conservation attempts are considered more important and saving human lives.
Meanwhile, the example of Florida Panthers is used to understand how human interaction with wildlife and changes of habitat has destroyed this mammal’s genetic legacy. A fearsome and beautiful creature reduced to inbreeding and tiny numbers due to habitat destruction. Humanity is growing at an exponential rate, destroying natural habitats and destroying the genetic legacy of many animals.
I definitely recommend reading this novel if you are just delving into the subject of de-extinction, as it is informative and thorough with plenty of wonderful animal histories.
Finally, the Northern White Rhino is used as an example of the cruelty of poachers with tales of over hunting due to greed. The Northern White Rhino is a perfect example of a species who suffered the failure of many conservation efforts and could potentially benefit from de-extinction programs. It definitely felt this was a fantastic creature to utilize in developing an understanding of the benefits de-extinction as well as a cautionary tale of human history.
O’Connor also looks at the implications of human contact, habitat destruction and the science of de-extinction in regards to:
Northern Right Whales (one of my favourite entries and definitely inspires me to read more Right Whale literature)
White Sands Pupfish
Unfortunately, I honestly didn’t click with the way the novel was narrated. Although O’Connor has a well researched and carried a solid premise..I dislike most narratives that hold humanity as most important. The discussion largely discussed the economic ramifications on smaller, poor communities in relation to expensive conservation projects and questioned whether human progress should be halted in the name of preserving the environment. Although I understand that “progress” cannot be stopped and economic powers will never halt construction of hydro-electric dams for mere toads; I am appalled that human life is considered more important than animal life. I found it uncomfortable reading a narrator who leans a bit further down the “save humanity” spectrum than I am. Regardless, Resurrection Science is extremely educational and definitely worth the read. I also plan on buying it if I can find it in my city because it’s worth keeping on the bookshelf for reference..plus that cover is to die for!
I also learned quite a bit about species of animal I’ve never heard of or really considered learning about.
I found Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things an important read to understand further questions in the march towards developing de-extinction technology and policy. The fact that discerning which animal to use in de-extinction projects is interesting because we still don’t properly understand the interconnections of ecology or the effects on the environment regarding re-introduction of missing species.
This book will appeal to readers of science non-ficiton, people new to de-extinction science, animal lovers, humanists, nature lovers and animal documentary lovers. A book filled with animal trivia, experiences of those who are leaders in their fields and interesting moral questions. Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things should not be missed by any science or nature lover!
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