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The Flight of the Iguana: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature (David Quammen's essay collections #2)

4.17  ·  Rating Details ·  1,067 Ratings  ·  49 Reviews
From the award-winning author of The Song of the Dodo comes a collection of essays in which various weird and wonderful aspects of nature are examined. This book contains tales of vegetarian piranha fish, voiceless dogs, and a scientific search for the genes that threaten to destroy the cheetah.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 16th 1998 by Scribner (first published 1988)
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The Song of the Dodo by David QuammenThe Flight of the Iguana by David QuammenA Primate's Memoir by Robert M. SapolskyWhere the Wild Things Were by William StolzenburgSilent Spring by Rachel Carson
Best of Natural History
2nd out of 48 books — 22 voters
A Planet of Viruses by Carl ZimmerParasite Rex by Carl ZimmerThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksThe Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc BekoffA Window on Eternity by Edward O. Wilson
9th Grade Bio Book List
32nd out of 42 books — 2 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Deborah Mantle
Feb 23, 2013 Deborah Mantle rated it it was amazing
It was spattered with small, orange spots of damp and priced at 780 yen. Not cheap for a second hand book. And yet, in that used books shop in Kyoto, Green e Books, there was something that stopped me from putting ‘The Flight of the Iguana’ back on the shelf.

The title was intriguing. How could an iguana fly? Why would it even try? But there on the cover was an iguana, rich in red and green detail, set against an exotic sunset as if captured in mid-flight. And then there was the subtitle: ‘A Sid
Jason Mills
May 27, 2010 Jason Mills rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of biology, travel, humour, a good read
I read this as my commuting book, and it's a measure of its stimulating qualities that it actually made me look forward to getting the bus to work!

Quammen writes great natural history, but his particular schtick lies in writing around the topic. His essays are steeped in anecdote, humour and travelogue. He has things to say beyond, but deriving from, the immediate subject. Discussing Darwin's lifelong obsession with earthworms, he remarks:
It is equally essential that some people do think about e
Aug 20, 2010 Chriss rated it it was ok
It was alright. I was looking more for a book about nature and this book is more about the author musing about stuff with an animal theme. The first two or three were entertaining, but then it just became a laborious read. Maybe because the material is a bit dated and so the author is musing on things that are currently a bit off-topic. *shrug*
Pat Cummings
Aug 29, 2015 Pat Cummings rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Imagine a moment in the history of ideas: A young man stands on the corner of a tropical island, throwing an oversized lizard into the sea.
The lizard swims back to shore. The young man follows this animal,… catches it by its long muscular tail, and throws it back again into the sea… Always the lizard swims straight back to that same stretch of rocky shoreline where the young man waits to catch it again, throw it again. The lizard is a strong swimmer but seems stubbornly disinclined to try to esc
Bryce Holt
Sep 25, 2014 Bryce Holt rated it liked it
"Spillover," a book about modern zoonotic diseases, was easily one of the top three books I read last year. It prompted me to pick up another 4 books by Quammen, and I'm glad I did. I started with "The Flight of the Iguana" out of those for exactly for this was his earliest stories, and therefore, the one I was most likely to be disappointed by. "Spillover" (published, I think, in 2012) and "Flight of the Iguana" (1988) are seemingly written by two different authors, and that's a goo ...more
Jul 24, 2010 Liv rated it it was amazing
Oh, friend I am home in these words. A number of short ... not essays. Not articles. Not stories. Somewhere in between that swirled together with poetry. All on things biological. An encounter with a spider. The mystery of okapi: the biggest mammal you've never heard of. The harshness and vulnerability of the desert as a metaphor for the suffering and resilience of an immigration crisis. Three old soldierfriends reuniting to canoe through strange waters.

I will gush to no end about Tom Robbins' w
Aug 26, 2008 Dale rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
As I think I've mentioned in other reviews, I love the interesting parts of science. I don't have the discipline to grind through the boring parts and become an expert, but man do I enjoy dabbling. Quammen strikes me as a bit of a dabbler in science as well, while being a born writer, and that of course puts him solidly in my camp. This collection of essays actually belongs to my wife and she recommended it to me because, hey, she knows me pretty well. She suspected I would enjoy it, and she was ...more
Apr 16, 2014 Colby rated it really liked it
I had the opportunity to see a panel discussion at the National Geographic Museum about something or other of which David Quammen. was one of five guest speakers. I had no idea who he was. But when he was asked something about his method for gathering information on a story, he sited some assignment to a backwater jungle town and said, "I showed up with two bottles of Johnny walker and a notebook. And that was it." I decided I should check him out. This book is collection of his writings for Out ...more
Aug 03, 2007 Kay rated it really liked it
A collection of Quammen's articles that formerly appeared in Outside magazine, the topics cover an impressive range of topics, including ruminations on things that are totally unlike us (spiders, worms, piranhas); elegies for things that have become extinct or may soon be (such as the birds on Guam); reflections on the wonders of migrations; and most affectingly, a chapter on survival in the desert -- including a rather telling moral tale of illegal immigrants crossing the desert at night. Alway ...more
Bobo Johnson
Sep 07, 2007 Bobo Johnson rated it liked it
It's not really about iguanas per se. Then again, it's not really about anything in particular, except the wacky, zany, nutty landscape of life. If you've never looked at a spider -- really looked at one -- you'll be amazed at what you're missing.

Quammen succeeds in entertaining and does a nice job of threading a few connections throughout the book. "Flight of the Iguana" is not a linear book, but a compilation of essays originally written for Outdoor Magazine. His occasionally offbeat and alwa
Nov 21, 2008 Pat rated it really liked it
He's one of our best science/natural history writers, (maybe the best?) but I've been sadly disappointed in Quammen's longer works -- I'm thinking of Song of the Dodo and Monsters of God. Dodo wasn't so bad, I guess, but MOG was a slog. But maybe my problem stems from the fact that his shorter stuff -- primarily the Outside columns -- was always so great and the longer stuff just suffers from comparison. This is a great collection of those columns and the short essay about crows is worth the cov ...more
Brian Switek
Jan 11, 2016 Brian Switek rated it really liked it
The natural history essay is functionally extinct today. You can find a few if you kick over the right rocks, but there is no longer a sustainable population or much suitable habitat. Yet we still have the works of David Quammen, and Flight of the Iguana is one of his best collections. Even when he's wrong - which is rare, but also the risk anyone who dares to write about science takes - he always offers his warmth and a way to connect to something bigger, older, stranger, and different than you ...more
Part natural history, part autobiography, part politico-sociological commentary on behalf of Salvadorean refugees and the sanctuary network that aids them, this collection of Quammen's essays on the inter- relatedness of things has been a great discovery. The articles are thought provoking and generally made me want to read more and find out more about the topic. Quammen writes with a light but sure touch. As a Brit Quammen was a completely new name to me and although several of the essays assum ...more
Stacy Peltier
Jan 12, 2008 Stacy Peltier rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of Quammen's essays from Outdoor magazine. There's a general focus on bizarre biology, but it covers a range of scientific topics. Being in short essay format, it's wonderful for reading in snippets - waiting for the bus, on a lunch break, or right before falling asleep. His writing is particularly genuine and witty, making the information easily accessible. Subsequently one of my favorite authors in this genre.
May 10, 2013 Chelsea rated it liked it
I love David Quammen (I want to BE David Quammen) and the essays are great... but somehow the format doesnt work for me as a book. They are too short to be collected together; I want them to be beefier, or connected together more, instead of just a few short pages each. Each essay has its own point, and if you read a couple in a row, it begins to feel strange!

As pieces in a magazine though, as they originally were, they'd be my favorite thing.
Sep 10, 2009 Brittany rated it really liked it
This book was published in the mid-1980s. You have to keep that in mind when you read it or you might get upset. Some of the articles are based on science which is now wrong, or outdated, but they're still interesting to read. And the best one of them all, a treatise about Darwin and earthworms, is perhaps even more applicable today than it was when it was published. I highly recommended it for anyone who finds themselves vaguely uncomfortable in the blogosphere.
Dec 24, 2009 Lindsey rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, nonfiction
Give me more Quammen. The book is a compilation of essays and columns and gives the brain a mental stretch.

Favorite quote: Facts are important to the appreciation of nature, because "appreciation" without comprehension is often a shallow and sentimental whim.

Great quote from Marguerite Duras April 86' Harpers
May 06, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it
I found Quammen's essays very engaging and entertaining, probably in part because I am a biologist. Some essays are rather dated, particularly the ones on illegal immigration, but I was surprised how relevant they still are.
Jun 17, 2008 Kimbolimbo rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kimbolimbo by: Those who like long non-fiction books
Shelves: read-in-2008
This is a great book, but I recommend reading it in spurts. It is not one continuous story, but a collection of biological articles. I like his humorous observations on nature and natural processes and then how he relates that to his observations of human experiences.
May 30, 2009 Carolyn rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Contains posibly the BEST biology-based rebuttal to creationism/intelligent design. Ever. Check out the essay 'Nasty Habits'. Serious ammunition. There are many, many reasons to read this book, but that's got to be #1, followed closely by 'The Siphuncle'.
Feb 28, 2008 Brooke rated it it was amazing
Another book read in college for a class. We never read the whole thing in class, but I did alone. Most of the book is complex or somewhat complex issues regarding environment, morals, values and many other such subjects. I love analyzing them.
Jul 31, 2008 Gabriel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-read-again
One of three books that completely changed my outlook on life and the world around me. I am past due to read this one again. Quamman's essays are illuminating, funny and intelligent. Non-fiction is never as good without his voice attached to it.
Jan 02, 2008 Nathan rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: will-read-again
Thought-provoking essays that draw from nature and the environment. I initially read this book as part of my work in the Reading Lab at Ricks College. Mat helped me find the book again, and bought it for $3 on Amazon. I enjoyed re-reading as much as the first time.
Feb 02, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing
This author writes short nature essays for Outside Magazine and this is a collection of them. The essays are short and interesting and fun to read. It's a good one if you don't have time to get engrossed in a deeper book.
Dec 19, 2013 Steven rated it it was amazing
The conversational style of the book is great. The several layers of meaning with each chapter are written seamlessly and work together. The author has done his research, and blends natural history facts with a story that provides a powerful MEANING.
Apr 11, 2009 Ellen rated it it was amazing
I LOVED this book. The image of Darwin blasting a whistle and bassoon (among other things) to get a rise out of earthworms warms my heart. I also have a new-found affection for siphuncles and the chambered nautilus.
Jan 18, 2008 Reed rated it really liked it
David Quammen is primarily an essayist. This is one of the collections if I'm not mistaken. It's a little hard to tell essay collections apart in retrospect, but I have yet to read a bad one by this writer.
Marilyn Mcentyre
Feb 07, 2011 Marilyn Mcentyre rated it it was amazing
More essays from Quammen's columns in Outside magazine, examining the strange lives of various creatures with informed curiosity and wit. Even if you think you're not interested in iguanas and their ilk, try these out! You'll never see a zoo in the same way again!
Mar 17, 2013 christy rated it it was amazing
I randomly picked this up in England and loved it so much that I read a previous book, Song of the Dodo. This book is better - combines science, history, and humor in a very readable way.
Apr 10, 2007 Ada rated it really liked it
The science is sometimes outdated, but the perspective is erudite and often makes me laugh out loud.
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David Quammen (born February 1948) is an award-winning science, nature and travel writer whose work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Outside, Harper's, Rolling Stone, and The New York Times Book Review; he has also written fiction. He wrote a column called "Natural Acts" for Outside magazine for fifteen years. Quammen lives in Bozeman, Montana.
More about David Quammen...

Other Books in the Series

David Quammen's essay collections (4 books)
  • Natural Acts: A Sidelong View of Science and Nature
  • Wild Thoughts from Wild Places
  • The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder

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“People come into our lives and then they go out again. The entropy law, as applied to human relations. Sometimes in their passing, though, they register an unimagined and far-reaching influence, as I suspect Hughes Rudd did upon me. There is no scientific way to discern such effects, but memory believes before knowing remembers. And the past lives coiled within the present, beyond sight, beyond revocation, lifting us up or weighting us down, sealed away--almost completely--behind walls of pearl.” 9 likes
“He hoped these students would learn how to be at home in the desert, not how to conquer it; and he hoped that, in the process, they might discover the spiritual value of quietude.” 3 likes
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