The Song of the Dodo

David Quammen. Scribner, New York, 1996.

Nature writing at its very best, Quammen’s mixture of scientific reporting and travel writing is a delight to read and at the same time very infor-mative. His subject is a search for the reason behind a continuing tragedy, that island ecosystems seem to suffer unusually high rates of extinction. Quammen’s eight year odyssey of discovery and inquiry takes him to Madagascar and Guam, to the land of the Dodo and the depths of the Amazon. A particularly good section is The Man Who Knew Islands, an extensive and very thoughtful 100-page treatment of the work of Alfred Wallace, Darwin’s contemporary and codiscoverer of evolution by natural selection. We walk the same miles Wallace walked, puzzle over the same unexpected surprises as the wonderful idea of natural selection steals into Wallace’s consciousness. A great naturalist much neglected in our teaching of “Darwinian” evolution, Wallace is the favorite biologist of many evolutionists, and this treatment of his work is first-rate.

Dr. George Johnson