At a recent book marketing meet-up I attended, the books editor at The Oregonian newspaper spoke of the dismal fate of most books seeking a review from their publication. On average, they receive about 500 queries a week, and only review 5 books. As a consolation, he brought with him several new releases that had been rejected by their review team to give away, and I went home with an advance review copy of Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific. As a person with several degrees in anthropology, this was a real treat.
Scientist and explorer Tim Flannery is also the author of the internationally-acclaimed The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth. As a career mammalogist with the Australia Museum, he’s been credited with identifying more new species than Darwin.
In Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific, Flannery recounts nearly 25 years of adventures in the South Pacific, beginning as a young biologist in 1987. The book is organized geographically, with sections devoted to travels in Papua New Guinea, the Bismarck Isles, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and New Caledonia. Following in the footsteps of only a handful of biologists who have gone before him, Flannery travels to islands only accessible by ship, wades through piles of guano in search of new species of bats, encounters cultures with a history of cannibalism and head-hunting, and drink suspicious alcoholic beverages with government officials of small island states.
If you find that sort of lifestyle romantic, as I do, than this is an interesting read. Among the Islands is memoir, history, ethnography, and Darwinian-like study all in one. There’s reference to famed anthropologists Bronislaw Malinowski and Roger Keesing, who shared with the world the unique cultures of the Trobriand Islands and the Kwaio peoples of the Solomon Island of Malaita. There’s in depth descriptions of monkey-faced bats and the lengths a scientist must go through in order to positively identify a new species.
Though at times the writing is a bit technical, and the humor dry, Among the Islands is for the adventurer at heart and will remind many now stuck in desk jobs why they became scientists in the first place.