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The Snake Charmer: A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  251 ratings  ·  58 reviews
Although it was still too dark to see well, Joe absentmindedly thrust his right hand into the sack to extract the specimen and have a look. Immediately, he winced with pain and yanked out his hand. A tiny black-and-white banded snake, less than ten inches long, was dangling limply from his middle finger, its fangs still sunk into his flesh.In the fall of 2001, deep in the ...more
Hardcover, 260 pages
Published April 1st 2008 by Hachette Books
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I'm at odds about this book. On one hand, I very much enjoyed learning more about herpetology and field biology. The best parts of the book, I thought, delved into advances in the classification of snakes and description of key species. Did you know that virtually all snakes are poisonous but that some are simply not toxic enough to affect humans? I didn't. That some "primitive" snakes such as pythons have pairs of organs (kidneys, lungs, etc.), but that more "evolved" snakes have single organs, ...more
I listened to this on audio (Audible download.) Very hard to turn the car engine off. I think the protagonist, Joe Slowinski, was a little cracked, but it makes for fascinating listening. Lots of fascinating detail about the politics of herpetology science. It does seem that this male-dominated profession attracts more than its share of those who like living on the edge. Some described him as a genius. He struck me more as one obsessed.

A nice feature of the book is to highlight and provide backg
Pat Padden
This was a tough book to like. Not because there's anything to complain of as far as the writing goes; Jamie James does an admirable job of putting you next to his subject; but the unadulterated arrogance of that subject, herpetologist Dr. Joe Slowinski, makes it difficult to like him enough to empathize with his horrific ordeal - the result of a moment's inattention on his part in an inaccessible part of the Burmese rainforest. That being said, there's a slithery sort of fascination to the book ...more
Lynn Pribus
This was a download to my iPod and I rather enjoyed it, but then I googled to see if there were pictures and learned too much about the book.

It was an interesting portrait of a boy who becomes a man with a great passion for snakes and I rather like snakes myself. There is a black rat snake who occasionally suns atop an azalea outside my office window (in season) and he once left an old skin there when he shed it to reveal (but not in my sight) his new one.

This book, however, drifted more into th
Martin Peko

Very interesting book I thought. It included many interesting and educational facts about snakes as well as the story behind the man who had a passion researching them. This was also supported by the book being non-fictional as a biography so it included many experiences of his. Many of these were exciting stories about him handling snakes, some coming from as early as when he was in high school. I thought that was cool because it helped me relate to it a little better and showed his passion
Ira Therebel
I became interested in the book because it talks about a man who died while being bitten by a snake in 2001. This was Joe Slowinski, a famous herpetologist. I usually don't get to read much about such expeditions of our time, the one I know are from a few centuries ago and it all seems like adventure and world discovery. So it was definitely interesting to read about the expedition to find new animals in Burma.

The book though is very boring for the most part of it. It is Joe Slowinski's biograph
Matthew Ciarvella
It was billed to me as "Into the Wild, but with snakes!" which immediately attracted my attention. And although it doesn't quite hit Into the Wild's level, the fact that it aimed for such a lofty goal means it's a book worth reading . . . if you're a fan of snakes and reptiles. The ophidiophobic really should steer clear.

The highlight of the book is definitely the many different snake species encountered and discussed, although I very much appreciated the author's approach to both the snakes and
The details within this biography shouldn't come as a surprise -- after all, the subtitle states clearly what to expect. Yet surprising they are, from the obscure (and fascinating) facts about venomous snakes to the finely drawn character of renowned herpetologist Joe Slowinski. This is a world few people know - the exotic, impoverished jungles of Burma; the intricate, political world of scientific grants and biologist rivalries; the odd psychologies of those who seek out new species and willing ...more
It was an exciting book to read, I'm a serious enthusiast herper and the book gave me a lot to think about.
Jun 27, 2014 Ryan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: nature
Passionate, charismatic, shy, competitive, reckless. These are some of the words that apply to Joe Slowinski. Born with an affinity and liking for nature in general and snakes in particular, we see him grow into a mature, sophisticated and respected scientist, follow him through the ups and downs of academia, his meteoric rise in fortune as he forays into the Far East in his quest for new species and finally when it all came crashing down abruptly in that ill fated expedition into North Burma. T ...more
First of all, I don't like snakes. But I feel that one must confront one's fears with solid knowledge. In The Snake Charmer, I learned much about venomous snakes...enough to know that I do not want to be in the same room with them!! Jamie James tells of the life of Joe Slowinski, a brilliant herpetologist and daring field scientist. Slowinski fell in love with snakes as a young boy growing up in the Mid-West and went on to pursue his love of all things reptile in college. After getting a Doctora ...more
Michelle Brandstetter
What was supposed to be the most exciting trip of Joe Slowinski’s life ends up being his last. Slowinski is one of the country’s leading herpetologists (a zoologist that studies reptiles and amphibians) and his specialty is poisonous snakes. During the trip he asks what snake is in a particular bag and, as the story goes, he’s told nonvenomous. As soon as he sticks his hand in the bag he’s bitten and he knows it a Krait (extremely deadly). Unfortunately, the weather is horrendous, the country’s ...more
Even knowing from the start what was going to happen to Joe at the end, I found myself transfixed by every single event told about his journey to find and identify snakes. An interesting point of creativity was making each chapter begin with information about a snake, not just any snake, but one that had a key impact on that part of Joe's life. This book could have been a dry, scientific sort of thing that only told what happened from beginning to end in order to memorialize a famous scientist, ...more
This book was sent to me by a friend: I had sent her Dr. Kate Jackson's autobiography of her snake-collecting work in Africa, Mean and Lowly Things and she mailed me The Snake Charmer in reply. It is an expertly-crafted tale, as the journalist who authored it captures the life, and unfortunate death, of Dr. Joe Slowinski in gripping detail. Dr. Slowinski became one of the world's leading experts on the snakes of Asia, and died due to a bite from a many-banded krait in Burma. However, this book i ...more
In the vein of Into The Wild or Into Thin Air (but not as well written or fleshed out) Jamie James tells the story of Joe Slowinski, herpetologist extraordinaire, who was bitten by a deadly many-banded krait deep in northernmost Burma. James does a good job of setting up Slowinski's lifetime obsession with snakes, including both his reckless exploits with them and his dedication to the science of studying them. The centerpiece of the book is Joe's struggle for life in the remotest part of Burma, ...more
Robert Blanchette
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Matt Shaw
Very well researched and written. I felt I knew the central players in a human drama of scientists at work.
This was a serendipitous discovery: I THOUGHT I was buying a book about snake handling in Appalachian churches. Instead I got a marvelous combination of biography, geography, and snake lore. Joe Slowinski was a complex individual, devoting his life and career to studying snakes and furthering the comprehensive study of life forms started by Linnaeus and Darwin. He possessed a charismatic and risk-taking personality, one that in no small way contributed to his death while on an expedition to a re ...more
In this excellent biography of Joe Slowinski, James closes his acknowledgements by expressing his regret that he never got to meet Slowinski. Upon finishing The Snake Charmer, one feels much the same. While most folks fear snakes, Slowinski positively reveled in them from a very young age. TSC is a measured and well-researched biography that explores the tragedy of Slowinski's death from snakebite in Burma without sensationalizing it, examining and celebrating Slowinski's life in full.

A read-ali
Jane Nelson
My main feeling as I started reading this book was how awful it would be to be Joe, the subject of the book, having his life pawed over by some sensation-seeking journalist who wasn't there, never knew him, didn't know the people, and didn't know anything about snakes that you couldn't get (better written) by leafing through Harry Greene's 1997 classic on snake biology (To be fair, the author does include Greene's book among "sources"). Basically it read like a book written by a journalist who h ...more
Seán Higgins
Excellent. Having met him briefly at the Venom! exhibit he curated in 2000 at the Cal Academy, I've wanted to read this for quite a while. Glad I did.
Given that I just read Olivia Gentile's "Life List" prior to this book, it seems I'm off into a new and different trajectory in my book choices...
Daniel Simmons
An interesting tale, uninterestingly told. Though I suppose I learned a few interesting factoids about snake venom.
The main character Joe reminded my so much of my herpetology teacher that I instantly fell in love with him. I think all herpetologists are a little insane, but that is what makes them good. Even though I knew what happened to him before I read this book I still couldn't help but cry. The ordeal that him and his collegues had to go through was unbelieveable. This was a great nonfiction read .
This book is about Joe Slowinski, a herpetologist whose passion for science and snakes took him to Burma/Myanmar, where he died from a snake bite. It is a biography, but the author includes several interesting and relevant facts about snakes, academia, and the Burmese government. The balance between this educational (for me) information and the details of Slowinski's life was perfect.
The synopsis of the book covers its contents better than any review I could give, so I won't waste time on that here. And really, I enjoyed it quite a bit. But what made the book for me, what will stick in my head for a long time is a single sentence. "Doug Long sweated so heavily that he was attacked by a cloud of butterflies." There's something strangely beautiful there, to me.
a very good book. not knowing the story behind this guy joe i sorta saw what was coming by the way he wrote the first chapter. not exactly a spoiler but i knew where we were going. lots of info and science jargon that was well explained. a good bit of adventure along with descriptive writing that made if very interesting. i liked this book and will read other by james.
A suprisingly good read about a herpetologist who is bitten by a Many-banded Krait in Burma while on a biological survey. The author did a very decent job describing field biologists and their many quirks- the good and the bad. It seemed like some parts of his life were sensationalized but not overly so. Certainly made me wish I was back outside doing field work!
not bad, not the greatest nat hist or bio or whatever you want to call this, but it IS interesting and fairly gruesome death by Krait scene. More info on herpetology than burma, but also interesting side light on rabinowitz ("beyond the last village"), and how he started a new national park in Kachin and how he is VERY protective of it.
The story has stuck with me, and I think Slowinski's life was very interesting. That being said it's a much slower book in the mode of an Into Thin Air.

The difference here is that one day I will probably read Into Thin Air again... and won't be reading this one again.

3.5 Stars if I could give halves.
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Nature 1 5 Sep 11, 2008 05:40AM  
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