Song of the Dodo

Quammen, David. Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Reason read: February is David Quammen’s birth month. Reading Song of the Dodo in his honor.

I had never fully understood the word “biogeography” until reading Quammen’s Song of the Dodo. According to Quammen on page 17 of Dodo, “Biogeography is the study of the facts and the patterns of species distribution.” More importantly, the distribution of specific species on islands does much to argue the point of origin and “survival of the fittest” and adversely, extinction.

Song of the Dodo is a scientific adventure. It will prompt you to ask questions. Here’s an example: I was particularly struck by the obvious/not-so-obvious Noah’s Ark conundrum: exactly how big was this vessel if every single species was welcomed aboard two by two? As Quammen pointed out, “Noah’s ark was getting too full” (p 34).
What about this question – who was responsible for the theory of natural selection? Quammen delves into the controversy surrounding the competition between Alfred Wallace and Charles Darwin. Again, to quote Quammen “Was Darwin guilty of scummy behavior, or wasn’t he?” (p 109).
All in all, the subject matter for Song of the Dodo could be considered dry but the writing is most definitely entertaining. Where else can you find such a scientific topic interspersed with words like crazybig, godawful, helluva, whonks, and my personal favorite, badass?

Quote I liked, “But the hapless iguana wasn’t dealing with some idle yahoo, some sadistic schoolboy with a short attention span; it was dealing with Charles Darwin” (p 232).

Author fact: Quammen has written for Rolling Stone but his two of his books, Monsters of God and The Soul of Viktor Tronko are on my list.

Book trivia: maps are by Kris Ellingsen. Also, I have to admit Quammen invoked the Saint Helena earwig so many times I had to look it up. Can’t say I’m glad I did.

Nancy said: “well written and always fascinating” (p 70).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the long chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 500s” (p 70).



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