Sep 26, 2009

The Long African Day

by Norman Myers

I think this book has sat longest of all on my shelves unread (six years). I still remember clearly when I acquired it. I was a student in San Francisco, and one of the used bookstores I liked to browse had an extensive section of coffee-table books, replete with beautiful images and heavy, glossy pages. This one always caught my eye, and finally one day I gave in and bought it. At the time I used it frequently for reference, practicing drawing from the photos of the animals.

The What an Animal Challenge II has finally motivated me to actually read it. Similar to The Marsh Lions, this book is wide in scope, describing more than forty species of animals- from the large, well-known elephants, lions and zebra through the middle ranges of antelopes, jackals and birds down to hyrax, termites and even the naked mole rat. The Long African Day is full of scientific information and statistics, light on the anecdotes and descriptive writing I usually enjoy. It examines the wildlife in view of their evolutionary development and ecological niches, also issues of land use and conservation. There is a lot of discussion about research- often noting how much was simply unknown in the 70's, and the need for further study. In that regard, it's rather outdated. Some of the attitudes feel dated, too- like the idea that animals should be conserved because we need to use them for research, or that animals solely act in mechanical response to environmental stimuli. But reading past that, the details are still interesting. Especially how it is organized.

The book sweeps across East Africa by each stage of the day- early morning, the heat of midday, afternoon, and the approach of night. Each major section discusses what the various animals are doing at that time, going on to examine further aspects of their behavior, how they fit into the environment, and what impact development, tourism, poaching, etc. has had on them. More than any other book I've read on wildlife, it reveals the complexity of how different species' lives interlock, how specific their various adaptations to the environment are, and how small-seeming changes can have far-reaching affects on many different plants and animals. The amount of information is overwhelming, and I have to admit I glossed over a few parts that started to feel dull. The photographs, mostly black-and-white, while having an older, slightly grainy look, are excellent in quality- I still pore through the book at times just for the pictures.

Rating: 3/5                  404 pages, 1972

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