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    Every Creeping Thing: True Tales of Faintly Repulsive Wildlife: “Conniff is a splendid writer–fresh, clear, uncondescending, and with never a false step; one can’t resist quoting him.” (NY Times Book Review)

    The Species Seekers:  Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff is “a swashbuckling romp” that “brilliantly evokes that just-before Darwin era” (BBC Focus) and “an enduring story bursting at the seams with intriguing, fantastical and disturbing anecdotes” (New Scientist). “This beautifully written book has the verve of an adventure story” (Wall St. Journal)

    Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time by Richard Conniff  is “Hilariously informative…This book will remind you why you always wanted to be a naturalist.” (Outside magazine) “Field naturalist Conniff’s animal adventures … are so amusing and full color that they burst right off the page …  a quick and intensely pleasurable read.” (Seed magazine) “Conniff’s poetic accounts of giraffes drifting past like sail boats, and his feeble attempts to educate Vervet monkeys on the wonders of tissue paper will leave your heart and sides aching.  An excellent read.” (BBC Focus magazine)

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Posts Tagged ‘James Bond’

Species Seekers and Spies

Posted by Richard Conniff on February 20, 2011

Death's head sphinx moth

Here’s the latest column in my Specimens series for The New York Times:

There’s a scene early in the 2002 film “Die Another Day,” where James Bond poses as an ornithologist in Havana, with binoculars in hand and a book, “Birds of the West Indies,” tucked under one arm.  “Oh, I’m just here for the birds,” he ventures, when the fetching heroine, Jinx Johnson, played by Halle Berry, makes her notably un-feathered entrance.

It was an in-joke, of course.  That field guide had been written by the real-life James Bond, an American ornithologist who was neither dashing nor a womanizer, and certainly not a spy.  Bond’s name just happened to have the right bland and thoroughly British ring to it.  So novelist Ian Fleming, a weekend birder in Jamaica, latched onto it when he first concocted his thriller spy series in the 1950s.

The link between naturalists and spies goes well beyond Fleming, of course, and it might seem as if this ought to be flattering to the naturalists.  While the James Bonds and Jinx Johnsons of spy fiction are trading arch sex talk in the glamour spots of the world, real naturalists tend to be sweating in tropical sinkholes, or wearing out their eyes studying the genitalia of junebugs.  (That’s not a joke, by the way:  Genitalia evolve faster than other traits and often serve as the key to species identification, especially in insects.  The Phalloblaster, a device worthy of Bond, was invented to make the job easier by inflating the parts in question.)  And yet, as I was researching my book The Species Seekers, I found that naturalists don’t actually like the connection at all.  The suspicion that they may be spies Read the rest of this entry »

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