Wednesday, January 24, 2007

icons of conservation

er, end of hibernation. Been talking about science books with students again, and especially Henry Nicholls' Lonesome George - out last year from Macmillan.

It's been fairly widely and well reviewed and is a perfectly respectable first book, but not as arresting as the title - partly because nothing much happens or ever is going to happpen to the creature, a Galapagos giant tortoise who is the last male of his sub-species surviving. He's a leading exhibit at the Charles Darwin Research Station, and likely to remain so for a long time (tortoises do that).

Nicholls wants his hefty shell to carry a lot of weight, as a way into lots of other stories about conservation in general, ecology, reproductive biology, politics of protecting/exploiting the Galapagos, and so on. Maybe it is too much for poor George to bear.

There's also one thoughtful academic review, by historian Joe Cain in the last but one issue of Public Understanding of Science, which rather lays into the author for inviting us to feel good about scientists looking after one creature/species while the rest of us get on with destroying the planet.

He has a point, though it's also true that the books which don't do that already exist - notably Jonathan Weiner's wonderful The Beak of the Finch, (already mentioned here) about Malcolm and Linda Grant's work on the Galapagos' bird life and Edward Larson's Evolution’s Workshop, a fine history of discovery on the Galapagos, which also covers the Grants and Lonesome George (in a few pages…)

I also wonder what a book could do which would really get people's attention about the loss of biodiversity, especially now climate change is so firmly lodged on the public agenda. Sure, the two are related, but I'm thinking of E. O. Wilson's efforts in this direction, which seem now to involve writing the same book repeatedly. His plea is invariably urgent and eloquent, but who is listening?

Anyhow, it looks like there's a neat PhD for someone who'd like to review the construction of the Galapagos as a cockpit for discovery/conservation/struggle over resources. It would have to take in film and DVD treatments, too, as well as The Voyage of the Beagle, and maybe even Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos...

I'm going to try to post more regularly here, so if anyone happens to read, do post a comment so I know I'm not (just) talking to myself.


Blogger Clare Dudman said...

I'm reading too - usually a little more frequently than I have over the past couple of weeks.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

I haven't checked in for a while, but I'll plan to do so more regularly!

8:39 PM  

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