May 28, 2010

Chasing Kangaroos

a Continent, a Scientist and a Search for the World's Most Extraordinary Creature
by Tim Flannery

I first saw this title on shelf at a bookstore, and was intrigued because I'd never read anything about kangaroos before. I thought at first the subtitle was a bit puzzling: how hard can it be to find a kangaroo? aren't they numerous enough to be considered pests in certain parts of Australia? Well, I found out two reasons: many kinds of mid-sized kangaroos are gone forever, or very close to extinction. Also, Flannery wasn't neccessarily looking for live kangaroos. He was searching for fossils, to answer questions about how kangaroos evolved and what caused mass extinctions of ice-age giants like the short-faced kangaroo.

So the book is partly a travel adventure crisscrossing Australia, from deserts and rugged landscapes to ancient rivers that once bordered rain forests and islands that hold pockets of surviving marsupials now extinct on the mainland. Encounters with quirky characters and elderly Aborigines who sometimes remember those vanished animals clearly. Its other main focus is Flannery's work as a palaeontologist, from a young graduate student volunteering to help clean fossils in museums to conducting his own research. And then there's the kangaroos. I had no idea how diverse they were before. Or the peculiarities of their reproductive strategies and feeding habits (all quite bizzare). One drawback was the inclusion of many Australian slang terms I had to look up. A short glossary, or a suggestion in the text, would have helped this unfamiliar reader. Overall the book is informative, interesting, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. I'm game to read some more Flannery. Any suggestions on what I should try next?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 258 pages, 2004

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  1. Anonymous5/28/2010

    Sounds interesting, but not really what I would have expected from the title/cover.

  2. I was kind of taken by surprise. I expected a book about kangaroo behavior and stuff, but instead got kangaroo evolution and how they fit into Australian ecology. Still interesting, though.

  3. I don't know where I read another review of this book, but I remember it was lukewarm for the same reason -- the reader was expecting something different and was a little disappointed. I'd forgotten about it till I read your review and my memory was jogged. It still sounds interesting. I soooo want to visit Australia. My husband is going without me AGAIN, this summer. I can't even remember why I can't go. I'm just so disappointed I must have blocked it.

  4. I went through a big "kangaroo phase" as a kid, so I bet I'd enjoy this book!


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