Nov 25, 2008

The Ghost with Trembling Wings

Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species
by Scott Weidensaul

I saw this book mentioned on Vulpes Libris a few months ago. It is based on several years the author spent traveling around the globe in search of extinct and seriously endangered species. In The Ghost with Trembling Wings, Weidensaul discusses why and how many species have disappeared, describes some which were thought lost forever but found again, and looks at errors and misguiding information that kept them in obscurity. He also examines many of the controversial issues surrounding efforts to recover those species teetering on the brink of disappearance.

The first few chapters of the book are full of birds, but after ninety pages the subject shifts to black-footed ferrets, and then deals with the Eastern cougar, some unlikely black leopard sightings in Great Britian, and an exploration of cryptozology (particularly Nessie of Loch Ness). The second half of the book interested me more, especially the part that describes some projects attempting to breed the likeness of extinct species out of their descendents who still retain genes for primitive characteristics, re-creating (in a sense) the aurochs, European forest horse and quagga from modern cattle, tarpan horses and zebras. Then there are descriptions of a trek through Tasmania in search of the thylacine- which reminded me of Carnivorous Nights, although this book is far more serious about it. The book closes with a chapter about the author's own search in Brazil for a bird that was seen by one man in the 1930's- and never since. A lot of the information in this book is dismaying, but it is also imbued with hope and persistent desires to discover some unknown and wondrous creatures lurking out there in the wild, still hidden somewhere in a pocket of virgin forest from the presence of mankind.

Rating: 4/5                  341 pages, 2002


Eva said...

I LOVE the title of this one! And it sounds interesting, though sad at the same time. Definitely one for the TBR list. :)

Nymeth said...

Reminded you of Carnivorous Nights but more serious? I'm totally sold. Definitely one for the wishlist.

Susan said...

I agree with Eva and Nymeth, this goes right on to the wishlist! thanks so much for reviewing it, Jeane. You help me find books that I might otherwise miss, and this one really sounds interesting.

Jeane said...

Eva- I really like the title, too. Because it has "wings" and the first few chapters were mostly focused on ornithology, I thought the entire book was going to be about extinct birds!

Trish- I do hope you like this one better.

Susan- You're welcome! It is very interesting. I'm afraid I use that word too often on my blog, "interesting." Along with "fascinating". But so many books are, and I can't think of better words to describe how they enthrall me.