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The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
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The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  6,835 ratings  ·  354 reviews
David Quammen's book, The Song of the Dodo, is a brilliant, stirring work, breathtaking in its scope, far-reaching in its message -- a crucial book in precarious times, which radically alters the way in which we understand the natural world and our place in that world. It's also a book full of entertainment and wonders.
In The Song of the Dodo, we follow Quammen's keen in
Paperback, 702 pages
Published April 14th 1997 by Scribner (first published August 15th 1996)
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4.26  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,835 ratings  ·  354 reviews

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May 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
"This one goes to 11." I would give this book 11 stars if I could.

This is THE book I recommend to people as an introduction to evolution, evolutionary biology, extinction, or anything related. I made my mother read this book. And she enjoyed it. David Quammen (whom I have been lucky enough to have drinks with...yes, I'm totally name-dropping here) is an absolutely amazing story teller who seamlessly weaves an engaging narrative of travel adventure, scientific research, and conservationism. Not
Dec 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Disclaimer: I'm only about a third of the way through, I'll update this review as I go. So far:

This book is physically WEIGHTY. At first, I was pleased about this--if it's a good read give me more of it!--but as I went I grew more and more disappointed.

No, the length isn't really important, except that I feel a fine editor could have cut this into a 4-star book with ease. Quammen tells a compelling narrative of interesting, oft-overlooked biologists such as Alfred Wallace, whose story alone was
Nov 10, 2017 added it
Shelves: abandoned
No rating. I read about a fourth and then skim read about half more. His tone and attitude is so much accusatory and "chicken little" that what particles of real information that I can get about island isolation and other historic evolutionary boundaries, is lost within his sarcasm and blaming. Not for me his attitude, nor his disrespect. He writes of humans as if they were bacteria. He actually fat shames too, tourists or any one who he sees as action or appearance worthy for ridicule. (Those " ...more
Dec 19, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 kestr ...more
Oct 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: environment
This book gets high marks for its large scope covering many of the notable species extinctions and current vulnerable island populations and creating a convincing link between the two. This book does well when the author talks about the history of the animal species and those naturalists who did the early work like Darwin and Wallace. The author is quite knowledgeable and a truth seeker. The tone is not preachy whatsoever although there is an inconsistent approach to describing the species.

Jul 16, 2007 rated it it was amazing
One of my all-time favorite books (this was a re-read) by my favorite natural history author. Anyone who likes Stephen Jay Gould or Howard Zinn style writing will enjoy David Quammen. Not only is it beautifully written, it intertwines stories of the development of the theory of evolution with modern scientific research and travel, and serves as a call to arms to save the last great wild places.
brian dean
Jan 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book whose only flaw is that it requires the reader to keep track of various storylines.

Let's get my only complaint out of the way. Quammen does a good job of making us feel like we are part of the investigation into island biogeography but he does so by mixing several storylines together. These are the participants, locations and the time they occur, as they occur in the first unit.

Wallace's 1856 trip from Singapore to Lambok
Quammen's recent trip to Lambok
Nicolo di Conti's trip to t
May 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in conservation, ecology, or embarking on an island vacation!
This is a book about history: Animals and plants that once were and are no more, and how we should interpret that fact. When the question, “Why?” was asked, a new science was born. Quammen spends considerable effort building a context for this science. At first there were only observations, lists of features, catalogues of previously unknown species. Haphazard collections of these curiosities of nature captured the interest of Victorian naturalists. Volumes were filled. The list of new species s ...more
Jul 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I have owned a copy of “The Song of the Dodo” for several years but at 625 pages, 178 chapters it seemed a bit daunting to dive into. There never seemed to be enough hours in the day. But after reading Quammen’s ”The Reluctant Mr. Darwin,” I felt it was time to give it a go. And go I did.

I think a good editor could have probably cut this tome down to 623 pages, which is my backhanded way of saying that "TSOTD" is a monumental book on natural history, well worth the time you need to invest into
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Wildlife biologist and author Aldrin Mallari lent me a copy of this staggering book after knowing I had read "Wild Thoughts From Wild Places." I think I learned more about biogeography from reading this book than talking to a dozen biologists. The final image of the last Dodo on earth hunkering down in the jungle is haunting. Whenever I hear a Dutch ecologist try to lecture me about how Filipinos are ruining their environment, Quammen's descriptions of how the Dutch sailors clubbed and hunted to ...more
Jun 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have a liberal arts degree. My little sister is studying conservation biology. She gave me this book and it interested me so much that I want to go back to school and study science now.
Dac Crossley
May 05, 2012 rated it liked it
This came highly recommended. And Island biogeography has been important in the development of ecological theory.

The first part of the book discusses Alfred Wallace; it's very well written and I enjoyed it. I began to part with the author when he spoke disparagingly about a simple first-order equation. He claimed he didn't need to understand it. I realized that he didn't. Things went downhill after that.

Two flaws. Quammen doesn't seem to grasp the significance of ecosystems. The fauna (and flora
I finished it! (Further thoughts coming soon)
Tippy Jackson
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A great book about ecology and travel

This is unquestionably the finest book I've read that explains biogeography and population ecology in clear, concise English for the average intelligent person interested in the natural world who lacks a background in science. Quammen deserves highest praise for devoting much time to learn relevant science and then disseminating this knowledge to his readers. Much to my amazement, Quammen fully understands the implications of MacArthur's and Wilson's theory o
Jo Marshall
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dusty-cobwebs
After reading 'The Flight of the Iguana' by David Quammen, I had no qualms about undertaking another amazing journey, 'The Song of the Dodo' even though I had no clue at the time what island biogeography was, and only an elementary concept of extinction. This book could actually have had many titles that would have been equally mysterious to an environmental layman like me: 'The History of Biogeography and What That Actually Is' or 'Great Men With Controversial Theories of Biodiversity, and Othe ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Savanna by: Don Snow
This is the best natural history book I have ever read. Many sections read like a mystery novel, and yet it is still, according to Hutch (Whitman evolutionary biology professor), totally on-the-mark accurate. David Quammen's writing got me so fascinated with island biogeography that I did an independent study of it sophomore year. Eli and I are planning to visit Mauritius next year, the home of the dodo, as part of our big trip. Mauritius has a natural history museum devoted to the dodo and I in ...more
Jun 10, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: evolution
One of the great classics of science literature. If the grading system were a one to ten, I would give it a ten. Quammen gives a pretty thorough history of island evolution and extinction. It's interesting to note that island evolution and extinction now applies to the mainland because we have created "islands" in our national parks and remaining wild areas. Other "islands" are formed in places like mountain tops. Sadly, once again the science is not very optimistic about the future, but we pres ...more
Fab Mackojc
Dec 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I didn’t enjoy this book very much. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s poorly written, I just personally don’t have enough of an interest in island biogeography to enjoy reading 700 pages of it. I ended up deciding to slog through this book instead of just putting it down. There are definitely a few interesting insights on species extinction but overall I found this a bit dense and drawn-out unless you have a very specific interest on the topic.
Bradley Johnson
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was initially assigned reading in graduate school, but David Quammen's writing was so powerful that I returned to the book years later and then re-read it again. This is an eye-opening book that provides an unvarnished yet compelling read. Anyone who has read Elizabeth Kolbert's "The Sixth Extinction," should strongly consider picking-up "The Song of the Dodo," which provides deeper insight into the ongoing sixth great extinction in which we find ourselves today.
Leah Markum
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
From the Malay Archipelago in the 1850s to the Malay Archipelago in the 1990s with stories of literal and metaphorical islands from around the globe, Song of the Dodo comes full circle. David Quammen's 625 pages worth of heavy reading donates the reader a sense of accomplishment measured in by the volume of details of scientific studies and the author's anecdotes of physical adventures.

This book is best read gradually to allow time to absorb information and not be irritated by the seemingly ran
Carol Tensen
Jun 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Whew - can't believe I finished this. I could have read The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote and Moby Dick in the same amount of time. The Song of the Dodo was given to me by someone who reads a heck of a lot faster than I do. Even though I was daunted by its heft, I was swayed by her enthusiasm.

In spite of some of the denser parts, I'm glad I made the effort. Quammen is an engaging writer, when he's not delving into mathematical intricacies (hey! This is an animal book - I was told there wasn't
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Some great writing and even greater examples of biodiversity are at times hidden by self-indulgent writing (at times I wonder of Quammen saw himself more of a travel writer in the Bill Bryson mode) ...well described in other reviews. Having said that, I am grateful for all the great examples of biogeography in this book and plan to go and read up more about the tenrecs right now
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you can get over the long & overly-descriptive parts, this book offers much of what there is to learn (& criticize) in an Intro to Ecology course.
Nov 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Overall this was a well written book revolving around biogeography, ecology, evolution and extinction (amongst a plethora of other things). Quammen makes it a bit of an ecology travel log of sorts, which sometimes adds but sometimes detracts from the overall goal of the book. Quammen does enjoy tangents and this can distract from the book and many times I found myself thinking that a passage should have been included in a different section or left out altogether. The lists of Latin names and tit ...more
Patrick Trümpi
Mar 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Definitely worth reading! You might need to be a bit patient at the beginning until you reach the big (incredibly interesting) picture. Several paragrahs might be a bit infomation overloaded.
Dave Walker
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
An immense book, very well-researched. Quammen's science writing is among the best I've read. A bit detailed in certain sections to the point of monotony, but counterbalanced by many very meaningful sections. The final chapter was my favorite, diagramming the history of mass extinctions as related to the severity of the current, human-caused one.
Nov 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Looking back, this book played a large part in making me change my major from Biology to English in college. It was assigned as a side project with mini-quizzes in one of the most difficult and memorization-based classes I took, and reading it was a breath of fresh air every time I sat down with it. Funny thing, though, was that even though I loved it and enjoyed reading it so much, I never finished it.

That was 1999. Based on the multiple airline ticket stubs and receipts I had stuffed in the bo
John Nelson
Jul 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The title of this book is both evocative and misleading: the dodo bird, the famous flightless, turkey-sized pigeon that lived on the island of Mauritius and proved to be an easy target for humans, and went extinct soon after the island was settled, had no song, as it was not a songbird. It is unclear why the author chose this title, except that the dodo was a famous island resident, and the book concerns the theory of island biogeography, and its implications for modern conservation biology.

Dec 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I read it in a small village in northern Cambodia, while on a vulture research trip, and it infused the landscape and the work I was doing with new meaning - profound enough that when I finished working on that project, I went back to the US and got my master's degree in environmental science.

I'm writing this review seven years after originally reading the book, so some of the details have faded, but Quammen does an amazing job of presenting the science that revolutionized th
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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.
“The next day, William Lanney's much abused remains were carried in a coffin to the cemetery. The crowd of mourners was large. It included many of Lanney's shipmates, suggesting that the whaling profession in late-nineteenth-century Hobart was graced with a higher level of humanistic sensibility than the surgical profession.” 3 likes
“A high jeopardy of extinction comes with territory. Islands are where species go to die.” 2 likes
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