Reid's Reviews > The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
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Dec 19, 07

Read in September, 2007

This is the first book I've read by Quammen, an imminently talented journalist who perfectly balances the information and writing style of the book. He follows a chronological progression of island biogeography from Darwin through Jared Diamond (who became hugely famous shortly after the release of this book). Quammen's travelogues are excellent, combining a sympathetic, open perspective that is adventurous and engaged. Late in the book, Quammen describes a climb to the nest of a Mauritius kestrel: "When I'm thirty feet up, a tree branch flicks off my glasses, which drop to the ground. I could go down and retrieve them, sure, that would be sensible, but I'd fall too far behind the cheerful maniacs...
'Do you trust this vine?' I call up to Jones. Gangly but tall, he must weigh two hundred pounds, and from this angle I can appreciate the size of his feet.
'Not greatly.'
We ratchet our way upward, slowly, on the cliff face. It isn't Half Dome but it's more perilous than the average birdwatching stroll. We rise out above the valley. As we move beyond the treetops, I give myself an explicit mental reminder: Fall from here and you don't go home. Finally, Jones and I catch up with Lewis on a narrow rock shelf, like a window ledge ten stories above Lexington Avenue...
I gaze out at the panorama--the forested canyon below us, the deer ranch beyond, and the cane plantation beyond that, all spreading westward for five miles to the crescent of beach and then the great turquoise plane of the Indian Ocean." (562-3)
It's Quammen's excitement and sensitivty that inspire the reader to continue and to care, to take notice of humanity's influence: carving nature into islands, resulting in astonishing rates of extinction and ecosystem decay. But Quammen urges us to cling to hope, not despair, because "besides being fruitless it's far less exciting than hope, however slim." (636)
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