Stephen'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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it was amazing
bookshelves: 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 all 178 chapters. You'll never look at the natural world in the same way again.

Quammen does a skillful job of balancing scientific chapters with his worldly travels and adventures, taking us to exotic places around the globe with historical or environmental significance. But the real power in the book is his exploration into the development of ecology, basically beginning when the science found its chops, i.e. the data it had been collecting was actually put to use.

After finishing “The Song of the Dodo,” I feel that I have earned the equivalent of a PhD in island biogeography. (I wonder if I can use this on my résumé?) If I had read this book 25 years ago, I would have found my way to an ecology department at some university.

Early in the book the author describes the stack of photocopies of scientific papers “weighing eighteen pounds including the staples,” he has on his desk. By his own admission, he could have used the assemblage in the back of his truck to provide extra weight on icy roads in winter but instead, Quammen chose to read them and synthesize the information for us; presenting them in layman’s terms, explaining the jargon: minimum viable population, area-species relationships, equilibrium theory, inbreeding depression, et cetera. Lucky for us he did.

By the end of the book we have a real sense of just how endangered endangered species really are. The dodo was only one of the first to go.

Powerful book. David Quammen can write compelling science with a sense of humor.

This is a six star book, but I only have five to award.
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Reading Progress

July 2, 2009 – Shelved
Started Reading
September 15, 2009 – Finished Reading
November 25, 2011 – Shelved as: favorites

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