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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Book Review: Song of the Dodo

Song of the Dodo is the best book about evolution I’ve ever read.

Beginning with the origins of the Origin of the Species and then progressing on to modern debates about species preservation efforts, it provides a compelling narrative on the academic literature of growth and extinction.

Ostensibly, the book is about evolution and extinction. But the main mechanism that the book uses to communicate its message is through international travel to remote islands.  The author, David Quammen, visits the Galapagos, as you might expect. But he hammers his message home by visiting dozens of other islands with which you likely have less familiarity.  Separation plus time yields evolution. And his adventures show how the first biogeographers discovered that fact 150 years ago.

As the author traces the history of evolution science, throughout, the challenges of modernity peak through to color the present history of these islands. The dodo is a metaphor for remote creatures on islands that know no natural predators and have no hope of survival in a globally connected world. And there are many dodo-like creatures on islands and in remote areas that have little hope of accommodating the rest of the world coming to their doorstep. The book concludes with a discussion of human-caused extinction and its significance when compared with other forms of extinction. There are few answers for the many species that stand little chance of survival absent significant attention, intervention, and resources.

On the whole, it provides a fantastic survey course on evolutionary biology for the educated layperson. Highly recommended.

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