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Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science, and Survival in the Congo

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  125 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
In 2005 Kate Jackson ventured into the remote swamp forests of the northern Congo to collect reptiles and amphibians. Her camping equipment was rudimentary, her knowledge of Congolese customs even more so. She knew how to string a net and set a pitfall trap, but she never imagined the physical and cultural difficulties that awaited her.

Culled from the mud-spattered pages o
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Hardcover, 328 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Harvard University Press (first published September 1st 2007)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 256)
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Tippy Jackson
Jun 03, 2010 Tippy Jackson rated it liked it
Shelves: culture, animalia
So overall, I think this is an interesting and animated story. It's often brutally honest. But frankly, she's pretty arrogant and often a bitch and wonders why people don't jump to help her or why they want to quit working for her. She talks about the Congolese people as if their sole purpose on this planet is to help her with her research. She's also obviously always fighting with her justifications for her work as well and feels she constantly needs to remind people of why she is doing this wo ...more
Neely
Oct 21, 2008 Neely rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mike
Mar 11, 2010 Mike rated it it was amazing
I have always liked snakes, but have also been very aware that many others do not share my interest in reptiles. Yet even for those who have no fondness for snakes and their kin, snakes stir up strong feelings be these of fear or awe or something else altogether. Snakes are in so many ways held in our minds via mythos and emotion that the real snakes, the actual animals, sometimes become an after-thought to their popular cultural meaning. What a joy it is then to experience a book as interesting ...more
Lauren
Jan 02, 2010 Lauren rated it it was ok
Unfortunately typical of some nonfiction books. The story/adventure is better than the writer. I like stories about people traveling to far away lands, meeting new people and cultures, the environment and this book has all of that but not a capable writer. Sigh.
Liralen
"But have I ever been anywhere, anywhere in the world where people didn't think I was weird?" (196)

I'm reluctant to do a full review of this, because a lot of my reactions have less to do with the writing than with the author's perspective/thought processes, which is not necessarily fair. So, quick notes:

-Definitely another one for my hypothetical list of jobs I never knew I didn't want.

-Some really interesting material, if you can get past the author's impatience with everyone who isn't Harvard
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Bethany Harvey
May 14, 2011 Bethany Harvey rated it really liked it
I read this book in one evening, having picked it up just to look at the first few pages and see if I wanted to read it next. Apparently the answer was yes. The writing is very plain and straightforward, making this an extremely fast read.

There are, yes, a few headdesk-worthy incidents here. Jackson is clueless about the local culture (particularly on the first expedition) and has little patience with people who aren't as knowledgeable or enthusiastic as she is. A surprising amount of the text c
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Jenny
Sep 23, 2008 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Pack the machete, chloroform and snake hook—we’re headed to the Congo for a collecting adventure! Kate Jackson, Assistant Professor of Biology at Whitman College, has written an exciting memoir about her fieldwork collecting reptiles and amphibians for the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. In 2005 and 2006, she made three trips to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she increased her knowledge about the diversity of herpetological life in the swamp forests of central Africa and deep ...more
Danielle
Mar 06, 2015 Danielle rated it liked it
Female herpetologist on a Congolese research expedition - what could go wrong? Well, pretty much everything. Kate Jackson's auto-biography on this season of her life was quite insightful for those of us who have not experienced Congo firsthand: the weather, the culture(s), the food, the bugs. For the average Westerner,(and even for some Congolese), these conditions would be unbearable, but Kate takes it all in stride. I enjoyed rooting for her in the face of daunting opposition and appreciated h ...more
Robin Evans
Jul 09, 2008 Robin Evans rated it really liked it
I read this book because of Brynn, our aspiring herpetologist. She brought home several books from the library about snakes. Since this book was clearly written for adults, I told her I would preview it for her.

Being a biologist and science lover at heart, I thorougly enjoyed this book!! Kate Jackson gives a very honest portrayal of her time spent in the Congo, looking for reptiles & amphibians. She details the horrible living conditions, difficulties with the government, relationships with
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Alex
Nov 28, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
An great account of the joys and trials of fieldwork. Anyone brave enough to go catch snakes in the Congo deserves a lot of respect
Melody
Jun 18, 2008 Melody rated it liked it
I enjoyed this account of two collecting trips to Congo very much. Right up to the botflies. *shudder* I'm freshly convinced that I never ever need to go there.

The writing was accessible, and I got a real feel for Jackson's prickly but vulnerable person as well as her intense love of herps. The gold standard of zoology collection memoirs for me is Gerald Durrell and though Jackson is neither as polished nor as hilarious, she holds up well in comparison.

Recommended for herp-heads and armchair tr
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David
Jan 18, 2016 David rated it liked it
Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science, and Survival in the Congo by Kate Jackson (Harvard University Press 2008) (Biography) is an account of a newly-fledged biologist on a collecting trip to the Congo to capture and catalogue snakes, lizards, frogs, and toads. The author shares well the dangers, discomforts, and deprivations of living in the bush in the Third World with only a few assorted locals as guides and assistants. My rating: 6.5/10, finished 10/11/11.
Kaye
Jan 19, 2009 Kaye rated it liked it
Kate Jackson's book describes her trips to the Congo to catalogue and preserve snakes and amphibians. I found it to be a surprisingly quick read, and it gave me some idea about the day to day life of a field researcher. As a flaw, however, Jackson seemed particularly culturally insensitive, and if it weren't for well placed friends that did understand the culture, it's fairly certain that her expeditions would have crumbled before ever entering the forest.
Autumn
Aug 23, 2009 Autumn rated it really liked it
I don't like science, but I do like nature and adventure stories. What a fascinating story about her adventures in the Congo. Her writing is very accessible, a quick read about something I knew nothing about. The people in this remote area of the Congo are just like us.
My background is in social science. It was refreshing to read this by a scientist, who is so matter-of-fact about just about everything.
George
Sep 01, 2008 George rated it really liked it
Passion about anything is attractive, and the author has been passionate about snakes since before kindergarten. I don't believe I knew what a herpetologist was in high school, but Kate already knew she wanted to be one at that age. I like books in which a person goes out and explores some new territory, inevitably discovering as much inwardly as out. This is a good one of those.
Sarah
Jun 25, 2009 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who like adventure memoirs
Shelves: a-novel-group
I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!

If you have a hankering for a interesting memoir, this is the book for you. The topic is her experiences in the Congo collecting snakes, lizards, and toads. You will be gasping and reading sections of this book aloud to those around you.

I was pleasantly surprised that she is a good writer as well as having a great tale to tell.
Susieq
Sep 09, 2011 Susieq rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kate Jackson is one determined herpetologist. The world of snakes has a pretty rarified group of followers, but it took her halfway across the world to the dense rain-forests of the Congo and a whole raft of characters she's captured beautifully. I love her gumption and focus. What's a few maggots and a million mozzies when you've got species to catalogue!
Maria
Jul 18, 2012 Maria added it
Loved this trip into the Conga on a scientific study. Kate Jackson writes with the clinical detail and focus of a true scientist; she never strays into fictional fancies. Made this book an education into what biologist really do for these natural science museums. As museum visitors, we only see about 20 percent of the real work that goes on there!
Bill Hoskins
Mar 16, 2010 Bill Hoskins rated it it was amazing
Loved this book!! I stayed up til 3am to finish it! As well as being an exciting story about a world totally foreign to me, it is written in a deceptively simple and unassuming style, though actually it is a surprisingly complex book. It stands out for the author's honesty and fairness. She never pretends to be anything better than she is.
brian dean
Jun 22, 2011 brian dean rated it really liked it
Jackson discusses her research, but mostly her experiences doing that research, on snakes in the Congo. Among other things, part of her research grant involved mentoring two local university students in snake (herpian?) research.

I love snakes, love travel, and have a (3 year) biology degree: This book scratched all my itches.
Rebecca
Jan 31, 2009 Rebecca rated it really liked it
While I have always loved snakes, this book makes me realize that I definitely did not ever want to be a herpetologist. But Jackson's adventures in the Congo are a pleasure to read. She grabs forest cobras and pops pimples containing magets, and does all kinds of other tough things that are more fun to read about than live through.
Florida Museum
The FLMNH book club read this book in June 2011.

Although the author studied snakes and reptiles in the Congo, the story is really an insight on field studies. She goes into great detail on how she got permits in a foreign country, where she got funds for her research and how she coped living among a foreign culture.
Andrea
Dec 20, 2008 Andrea rated it really liked it
I was charmed by Kate Jackson's intimate look at her field experience as a biologist in the Congo. I loved that Jackson revealed the often clumsy truths of her adventures with "mean and lowly" things.

Any one, especially young women, who are interested in wildlife research should enjoy this book.
Susan
Oct 13, 2010 Susan rated it liked it
Female herpetologist goes to the Congo twice to collect and study snakes/frogs/lizards. Cannot IMAGINE doing something like this but was very interesting and well told.
Lance
May 02, 2008 Lance rated it it was amazing
This book was great. I could feel the rain and mud. I could see the faces of the people and I could sense her frustration trying to work with the various offices.
Jean-claude
May 31, 2009 Jean-claude rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. It gives a whole new meaning to discomfort in doing science. Can it get worse than having maggots growing under your skin?
Courtney Nesom
Aug 15, 2011 Courtney Nesom rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals-galore
Really good. Makes you really understand how difficult it is to be out in the field and all of the little unexpected things that can happen....
Joi
Aug 02, 2012 Joi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having lived in Africa (albeit in a sheltered camp) I could relate to Kate's frustrations in getting action from government officials and her crew.
Tiffany
Mar 13, 2010 Tiffany rated it it was ok
I didn't finish this book. It did have a few interesting stories about collecting herps, but was mostly dull and boring.
Marketingguy
Jun 18, 2008 Marketingguy rated it really liked it
Shelves:
Kate tells how she learns in the field how to manage her local team collecting snakes. This is who Shambhavi should have been.
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Hey! What do all you amateur herpetologists out there have to say? 1 14 Jun 06, 2008 02:20AM  
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Assistant Professor
Department of Biology
Whitman College

There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Actress: Kate Jackson
Self-help: Kate Jackson
Mystery writer: Kate Jackson
Other: Kate Jackson
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