Thirty years ago, two young biologists named Robert MacArthur and Edward O. Wilson triggered a far-reaching scientific revolution. In a book titled The Theory of Island Biogeography, they presented a new view of a little-understood matter: the geographical patterns in which animal and plant species occur. Why do marsupials exist in Australia and South America, but t in Africa? Why do tigers exist in Asia, but t in New Guinea? Influenced by MacArthur and Wilson's book, an entire generation of ecologists has recognized that island biogeography - the study of the distribution of species on islands and islandlike patches of landscape - yields important insights into the origin and extinction of species everywhere. The new mode of thought focuses particularly on a single question: Why have island ecosystems always suffered such high rates of extinction? In our own age, with all the world's landscapes, from Tasmania to the Amazon to Yellowstone, w being carved into islandlike fragments by human activity, the implications of island biogeography are more urgent than ever. Until w, this scientific revolution has remained unkwn to the general public. But over the past eight years, David Quammen has followed its threads on a globe-circling journey of discovery. In Madagascar, he has considered the meaning of tenrecs, a group of strange, prickly mammals native to that island. On the island of Guam, he has confronted a pestilential explosion of snakes and spiders. In these and other places, he has prowled through wild terrain with extraordinary scientists who study unusual beasts. The result is The Song of the Dodo, a book filled with landscape, wonder, and ideas. Besides being a grandoutdoor adventure, it is, above all, a wake-up call to the age of extinctions.
David Quammen David Quammen was born in 1948, near the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, and spent much of his boyhood in an eastern deciduous forest there. His interest in the natural world -- hiking through woods, grubbing in creeks, collecting insects, taking reptiles hostage and calling them pets -- was so all-consuming that he would eventually, during adolescence, need remedial training in basketball. At an early age he learned the word herpetologist and decided he might like to be one. But he had always been interested in writing; and at the age of 17, he met Thomas G. Savage, a Jesuit priest. Savage was to become a life changing teacher, fostering Quammen's literary ambitions and prospects, and encouraging him to attend college at Yale. He knew that at Yale Quammen would find a superb English department, and encounter people such as Robert Penn Warren, a great American novelist, poet, and critic. Despite his not having heard of Penn Warren, Quammen followed the priest's advice and enrolled at Yale. Fools luck was smiling on him, as were generous and trusting parents, and three years later he found himself studying Faulkner at the elbow of Mr. Warren, who became not just his second life changing teacher but also his mentor and friend. Quammen never forgot Thomas Savage's encouragement: The Song of the Dodo is dedicated to this vast-hearted curmudgeon, who died young in 1975. In 1970, Quammen published his first book, a novel titled To Walk the Line, which had been steered toward daylight by Mr. Warren. Also that year, he began a two-year fellowship at Oxford University, England, where he continued studying Faulkner, loathed the climate, loathed the food, loathed the vestiges of upper-class snobbery, met a few wonderful people, and spent much of his time playing basketball (the remedial training had helped) for one of the university teams. Promptly after Oxford, Quammen moved to Montana, carrying all his possessions in a Volkswagen bus to this state in which he had never before set foot. The attractions of Montana were 1) trout fishing, 2) wild landscape, 3) solitude, and 4) its dissimilarity to Yale and Oxford. The winters are too cold for ivy. Quammen made his living as a bartender, waiter, ghost writer, and fly-fishing guide until 1979. Since then he has written full time. In 1982 he married Kris Ellingsen, a Montana woman even more devoted to solitude than he is. His published work includes two spy novels (The Zolta Configuration, The Soul of Viktor Tronko), a collection of short stories about father-son relationships (Blood Line), two collections of essays on science and nature (Natural Acts, The Flight of the Iguana), several hundred other magazine essays, features, and reviews, as well as The Song of the Dodo. From 1981 through 1995, he wrote a regular column about science and nature for Outside magazine, and in 1987 received the National Magazine Award in Essays and Criticism for work that appeared in the column. In 1994 he was co-winner of another National Magazine Award. In 1996 he received an Academy Award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He remains a Montana resident, despite the arrival of cappuccino. In 1998 Scribner will publish Strawberries Under Ice, a new collection of Quammen's magazine essays and features, subtitled Wild Thoughts from Wild Places. The wild places in question, from which he has drawn observations and inspiration in recent years, include Tasmania, southern Chile, Madagascar, the Aru Islands of eastern Indonesia, Los Angeles, suburban Cincinnati, and of course, Montana. Reading Group Discussion Points Other Books With Reading Group Guides