Monday, September 15, 2014
1) Fuller, Errol. The Passenger Pigeon. 2014. Princeton University Press. Hardbound: 177 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: At the start of the nineteenth century, Passenger Pigeons were perhaps the most abundant birds on the planet, numbering literally in the billions. The flocks were so large and so dense that they blackened the skies, even blotting out the sun for days at a stretch. Yet by the end of the century, the most common bird in North America had vanished from the wild. In 1914, the last known representative of her species, Martha, died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.
This stunningly illustrated book tells the astonishing story of North America's Passenger Pigeon, a bird species that--like the Tyrannosaur, the Mammoth, and the Dodo--has become one of the great icons of extinction. Errol Fuller describes how these fast, agile, and handsomely plumaged birds were immortalized by the ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, and captured the imagination of writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain. He shows how widespread deforestation, the demand for cheap and plentiful pigeon meat, and the indiscriminate killing of Passenger Pigeons for sport led to their catastrophic decline. Fuller provides an evocative memorial to a bird species that was once so important to the ecology of North America, and reminds us of just how fragile the natural world can be.
Published in the centennial year of Martha's death, The Passenger Pigeon features rare archival images as well as haunting photos of live birds.
RECOMMENDATION: A MUST have for anyone with an interest in this species.
2) Goodman, Steven M. and William L. Jungers. Extinct Madagascar: Picturing the Island's Past. 2014. University of Chicago Press. Hardbound: 206 pages. Price: $45.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The landscapes of Madagascar have long delighted zoologists, who have discovered, in and among the island’s baobab trees and thickets, a dizzying array of animals, including something approaching one hundred species of lemur. Madagascar’s mammal fauna, for example, is far more diverse, and more endemic, than early explorers and naturalists ever dreamed of. But in the past 2,500 or so years—a period associated with natural climatic shifts and ecological change, as well as partially coinciding with the arrival of the island’s first human settlers—a considerable proportion of Madagascar’s forests have disappeared; and in the wake of this loss, a number of species unique to Madagascar have vanished forever into extinction.
In Extinct Madagascar, noted scientists Steven M. Goodman and William L. Jungers explore the recent past of these land animal extinctions. Beginning with an introduction to the geologic and ecological history of Madagascar that provides context for the evolution, diversification, and, in some cases, rapid decline of the Malagasy fauna, Goodman and Jungers then seek to recapture these extinct mammals in their environs. Aided in their quest by artist Velizar Simeonovski’s beautiful and haunting digital paintings—images of both individual species and ecosystem assemblages reproduced here in full color—Goodman and Jungers reconstruct the lives of these lost animals and trace their relationships to those still living.
Published in conjunction with an exhibition of Simeonovski’s artwork set to open at the Field Museum, Chicago, in the fall of 2014, Goodman and Jungers’s awe-inspiring book will serve not only as a sobering reminder of the very real threat of extinction, but also as a stunning tribute to Madagascar’s biodiversity and a catalyst for further research and conservation.
RECOMMENDATION: For those with an interest in the paleontology of Madagascar.