Song of the Dodo

It’s an unspoken aim of biological writing to speak to an audience broader than other biologists. However, scientific terminologies, complex ideas and a lack of access to scientific literature often means that the communication of the biological world to the non-scientific population is broken down or lost. Not only does David Quammen’s book ‘The Song of the Dodo’ overcome these obstacles, but the stories and biological theories covered by the author is an entertaining and informative read for anyone either directly involved in the conservation and management of the natural environment, or with an interest in it.

Quammen, a columnist for US magazine Outside for 15 years and an author of 15 books, has merged his talent for scientific journalism with his enthusiasm for biology and conservation to produce a book which talks about plight of species living in a world that is being “hacked to pieces”. Part and parcel with the theme, Quammen moves from Alfred Russel Wallace’s Indonesian and Amazonian expeditions, to Charles Darwin’s discoveries, and ultimately to MacArthur and Wilson’s Theory of Island Biogeography. He recounts field expeditions spent with leading biologists around the world, seeking to understand and communicate what happens when humans encroach into natural landscapes.

‘The Song of the Dodo’ isn’t just a book about islands; albeit not directly. It shows that islands are a model for the fragmentation and isolation of natural landscapes everywhere, whether fragmentation occurs as a natural process, or a by-product of human expansion. It covers rarity, endangerment and extinctions, and evolutionary pathways to weird and wonderful adaptations. And finally, it explores the many ways in which people have impacted the flora and fauna of this planet. Quammen’s work is therefore a book that should be given to anyone expressing an interest in the natural world, no matter what their background.

Elysia Harradine

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