Saturday, April 13, 2013

Must reading: The Ghost with Trembling Wings

Scott Weidensaul, The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking, and the Search for Lost Species
North Point Press, NY, 2002. 352 pp.

Weidensaul, an award-winning science writer, explores, in touching and sometimes poetic launguage as well as scientific exposition, the extinction of creatures of the land and air (he spendsrelatively little time on life aquatic). Some of his examples are famous (he treks through Louisiana swamps looking for the ivory-billed woodpecker) and some are less so (e.g., the golden toad), but all are well explored in the context of the overall extinction crisis. Successes like Gilbert's potoroo and the Congo bay owl are here, too, as the author probes the human stories of people who spend their treaure, their time, and sometimes their lives in searches for the missing. He also considers (if he does not always reach conclusions about) the dilemnas of putting huge resources into saving, finding, or resurrecting charismatic species while many lesser-known creatures could be saved with a relatively small effort.

On cryptozoology, he is a bit harsh in lumping all of the amatuers in the field into one unscientific lot, but he has a point about the scientific rigor needed to sift the species from the legends.
He adds:
"If cryptozoology is ever going to hit pay dirt, the jackpot is most likely to be marine. Even inshore waters are a mystery, and it is the height of hubris to think we’ve uncovered all the big surprises. It’s certainly conceivable – perhaps not likely, but conceivable – that one or more large unknown species that fit the old “sea serpent” mold are hiding out there, too, ready to shock and delight us one of these days. "

It's an absorbing and important book, none the worse for the 11 years since its publication. 

1 comment:

Laurence Clark Crossen said...

He also gives a very good discussion of British Big Cats.