“Bursting with Intriguing, Fantastical, Disturbing Anecdotes”
Posted by Richard Conniff on November 27, 2010
You know that moment in old backstage Broadway movies where everyone at the first night party gathers nervously round to hear the producer read the first reviews for thumbs up or down in the night owl editions of local newspapers? Well, these days it happens electronically, via Google Alerts, which means that the writer, who has worked largely in solitude, also gets the news in solitude. Even so, I had to break out a bottle of Sierra Nevada IPA (my champagne) when these two reviews came in this week:
Here’s the word from this week’s New Scientist:
IF YOU have ever visited a museum and stood in front of a glass cabinet stuffed with exotic creatures, you have made a connection with The Species Seekers. Those specimens were probably discovered, preserved, exhibited and classified by some of the myriad characters that populate this book. Starting at a time when the natural world was a terra incognita populated by dragons, these heroic, foolish and vainglorious individuals did not simply catalogue what was out there, they changed our understanding of life on Earth.
Richard Conniff brilliantly conveys the deprivation and squalor endured by the explorers, the intellectual jostling and egotistical skulduggery of the theorists, and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of collectors and the general public. It is an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes.
And this one came in yesterday, from the Wall Street Journal:
Richard Conniff’s “The Species Seekers” shows how a wildly disparate cast of explorers and nature lovers started systematically cataloging every living thing on earth. This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story—not surprisingly, since the author’s subjects frequently risked their lives to capture exotic specimens from far points of the globe.
Reviewer Michael Shermer adds that The Species Seekers:
makes the transition in thought from creation to evolution unfold like a detective story.
So I am raising my glass and offering thanks to the reviewers–and to the readers who will, I hope, follow their lead.