Bingo Square: Nonfiction Books About Endangered/Extinct Species

Are you participating in Adult Summer Reading and stuck on this bingo square? We’ve got some suggestions for you! Links go to the catalog so you can see if the books are available now and request them if they’re not.

The Great Auk by Errol Fuller

This is a comprehensive account of much of the known historical information concerning the great auk, a large, flightless, penguin-like bird, now extinct. The fate of few vanished species have been traced in much detail. Tradition has it that the last two great auks seen alive were found on June 3, 1844, when three Icelandic fishermen, part of a 14-man expedition, killed them on the remote Icelandic island of Eldey. (Choice Review)

A Gap in Nature by Tim Flattery

Since humans first wandered from their original habitat in Africa, over fifty millennia ago, they have radically altered the environment wherever they have gone, often at the cost of the animals who’d ruled the wild before mankind’s arrival. Humanity’s spread throughout the globe has begotten what paleontologist Richard Leakey has termed the “sixth age of extinction” — the most deadly epoch the planet’s fauna have seen since the demise of the dinosaurs. And in the last five hundred years, since the dawn of the age of exploration, this rate of extinction has accelerated ever more rapidly. In A Gap in Nature, scientist and historian Tim Flannery, in collaboration with internationally acclaimed wildlife artist Peter Schouten, catalogs 104 creatures that have vanished from the face of the earth since 1492. From the tiny Carolina parakeet to the majestic Steller’s sea cow, which was over twenty-five feet long and weighed ten tons, all of these animals have become extinct as a direct result of the European expansion into every corner of the globe. Flannery evocatively tells the story of each animal: how it lived and how it succumbed to its terrible destiny. Accompanying each account is a beautiful color representation (life-size in the original painting) by Schouten, who has devoted years of his life to this extraordinary project. Animals from every continent are represented — American passenger pigeons, Tasmanian wolves, and African blaauwboks — in this homage to a lost Eden. This extraordinary book is at once a lament for the lost animals of the world and an ark to house them forever in human memory.

Beloved Beasts by Michelle Nijhuis

In the late nineteenth century, humans came at long last to a devastating realization: their rapidly industrializing and globalizing societies were driving scores of animal species to extinction. In Beloved Beasts, acclaimed science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the history of the movement to protect and conserve other forms of life. From early battles to save charismatic species such as the American bison and bald eagle to today’s global effort to defend life on a larger scale, Nijhuis’s “spirited and engaging” account documents “the changes of heart that changed history” (Dan Cryer, Boston Globe).

With “urgency, passion, and wit” (Michael Berry, Christian Science Monitor), she describes the vital role of scientists and activists such as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, reveals the origins of vital organizations like the Audubon Society and the World Wildlife Fund, explores current efforts to protect species such as the whooping crane and the black rhinoceros, and confronts the darker side of modern conservation, long shadowed by racism and colonialism.

As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change wreak havoc on our world, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species including our own.

How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro

Could extinct species, like mammoths and passenger pigeons, be brought back to life? The science says yes. In How to Clone a Mammoth, Beth Shapiro, evolutionary biologist and pioneer in “ancient DNA” research, walks readers through the astonishing and controversial process of de-extinction. From deciding which species should be restored, to sequencing their genomes, to anticipating how revived populations might be overseen in the wild, Shapiro vividly explores the extraordinary cutting-edge science that is being used–today–to resurrect the past. Journeying to far-flung Siberian locales in search of ice age bones and delving into her own research–as well as those of fellow experts such as Svante Pääbo, George Church, and Craig Venter–Shapiro considers de-extinction’s practical benefits and ethical challenges. Would de-extinction change the way we live? Is this really cloning? What are the costs and risks? And what is the ultimate goal? Using DNA collected from remains as a genetic blueprint, scientists aim to engineer extinct traits–traits that evolved by natural selection over thousands of years–into living organisms. But rather than viewing de-extinction as a way to restore one particular species, Shapiro argues that the overarching goal should be the revitalization and stabilization of contemporary ecosystems. For example, elephants with genes modified to express mammoth traits could expand into the Arctic, re-establishing lost productivity to the tundra ecosystem. Looking at the very real and compelling science behind an idea once seen as science fiction, How to Clone a Mammoth demonstrates how de-extinction will redefine conservation’s future.

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams

New York Times bestselling author Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine take off around the world in search of exotic, endangered creatures.

Join them as they encounter the animal kingdom in its stunning beauty, astonishing variety, and imminent peril: the giant Komodo dragon of Indonesia, the helpless but loveable Kakapo of New Zealand, the blind river dolphins of China, the white rhinos of Zaire, the rare birds of Mauritius island in the Indian Ocean. Hilarious and poignant–as only Douglas Adams can be–Last Chance to See is an entertaining and arresting odyssey through the Earth’s magnificent wildlife galaxy.

The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen

David Quammen’s book, The Song of the Dodo, is a brilliant, stirring work, breathtaking in its scope, far-reaching in its message — a crucial book in precarious times, which radically alters the way in which we understand the natural world and our place in that world. It’s also a book full of entertainment and wonders.
In The Song of the Dodo, we follow Quammen’s keen intellect through the ideas, theories, and experiments of prominent naturalists of the last two centuries. We trail after him as he travels the world, tracking the subject of island biogeography, which encompasses nothing less than the study of the origin and extinction of all species. Why is this island idea so important? Because islands are where species most commonly go extinct — and because, as Quammen points out, we live in an age when all of Earth’s landscapes are being chopped into island-like fragments by human activity.
Through his eyes, we glimpse the nature of evolution and extinction, and in so doing come to understand the monumental diversity of our planet, and the importance of preserving its wild landscapes, animals, and plants. We also meet some fascinating human characters. By the book’s end we are wiser, and more deeply concerned, but Quammen leaves us with a message of excitement and hope.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

New Yorker staff writer Kolbert (Field Notes from a Catastrophe) accomplishes an amazing feat in her latest book, which superbly blends the depressing facts associated with rampant species extinctions and impending ecosystem collapse with stellar writing to produce a text that is accessible, witty, scientifically accurate, and impossible to put down. The eponymous extinction refers to the fact that the current rate of species loss is approaching that of the mass extinctions that ended five previous geologic epochs. Kolbert’s reporting takes her from the Andes to the Great Barrier Reef, and from a bare rock island off the coast of Iceland to a cave near Albany, N.Y. Throughout, she combines a historical perspective with the best modern science on offer, while bringing both scientists and species to life. As dire as our problems are today, Kolbert explains that they did not begin with the industrial revolution: “Though it might be nice to imagine there once was a time when man lived in harmony with nature, it’s not clear that he ever really did.” Kolbert, however, offers some optimism based on the passion the concept of extinction evokes: “Such is the pain the loss of a single species causes that we’re willing to perform ultrasounds on rhinos and handjobs on crows.” (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

End of the Megafauna by R.D.E. MacPhee

The fascinating lives and puzzling demise of some of the largest animals on earth.

Until a few thousand years ago, creatures that could have been from a sci-fi thriller¯including gorilla-sized lemurs, 800-pound birds, crocodiles that weighed a ton or more¯roamed the earth. These great beasts, or “megafauna,” lived on every habitable continent and on many islands. With a handful of exceptions, all are now gone.

What caused the disappearance of these prehistoric behemoths? Paleomammologist Ross D. E. MacPhee explores that question, examining the leading extinction theories, weighing the evidence, and presenting his own conclusions. He shows how theories of human overhunting and catastrophic climate change fail to explain critical features of these extinctions, and how new thinking is needed to elucidate these mysterious losses. He comments on how past extinctions can shed light on future losses, and on the possibility of bringing back extinct species through genetic engineering. Gorgeous four-color illustrations by Peter Schouten bring these megabeasts back to life in vivid detail.

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