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Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasionby Alan Burdick
Synopses & Reviews
A stunning work of narrative nonfiction that asks: what is natural?
Now as never before, exotic animals and plants are crossing the globe, borne on the swelling tide of human traffic to places where nature never intended them to be. Bird-eating snakes from Australia hitchhike to Hawaii in the landing gear of airliners; disruptive European zebra mussels, riding in ships' ballast water, are infiltrating aquatic ecosystems across the United States; parasitic flies from the U.S. prey on Darwin's finches in the Galapagos. Predatory American jellyfish in Russia; toxic Japanese plankton in Australia; Burmese pythons in the Everglades — biologists refer fearfully to "the homogenization of the world" as alien species jump from place to place and increasingly crowd native and endangered species out of existence. Never mind bulldozers and pesticides: the fastest-growing threat to biological diversity may be nature itself.
Out of Eden is a journey through this strange and shifting landscape. The author tours the front lines of ecological invasion — in Hawaii, Tasmania, Guam, San Francisco; in lush rainforests, through underground lava tubes, on the deck of an Alaska-bound oil tanker — in the company of world-class scientists. Wry and reflective, animated and richly reported, Out of Eden is a search both for scientific answers and for ecological authenticity.
"To be human is to change our habitat; this is one of the many insights in this thought-provoking account on the ecology of invasions, a hot new science in which new discoveries swiftly overturn old theories. Now that our habitat is global, creatures emigrate with us at an ever-accelerating pace, carried in ship ballast (a bivalve mollusk from England to Massachusetts), imported by nostalgic birders (once native birds returning from disappearance) or crawling into airplanes on their own (the brown tree snake from Australia to Hawaii). Even NASA's space probes carry potential invaders. If these creatures make new homes for themselves, they may eat other species into extinction, infect them with new diseases, even reconfigure an entire ecosystem. Burdick's fascination with the science is contagious, and he does a superior job of conveying the salient points of classic experiments. The Discover senior editor is at his best following invasion ecologists — a lively bunch — as they do their gritty, often ambiguous research in Guam and Hawaii, along the margins of the San Francisco Bay and on the deck of an oil tanker. His vivid descriptions add the pleasure of travelogue to the intellectual satisfactions of science: 'Travel is a weekend away, a reward upon retirement, a chance gift won in a game show or a sweepstakes. Honey, we're going to Hawaii! Applied by biologists to nonhuman organisms, the phenomenon is known as the ecological sweepstakes, and it explains how life arrives at a place like Hawaii to begin with.' This is a captivating book with wide-ranging appeal." 6 illus. Agent, Flip Brophy, Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Much more engaging and nuanced than other recent titles...this is highly recommended..." Library Journal
"An open and broad survey successfully designed to make readers think hard about the Mobius strip of exotic and native, and of the human agency in extinction." Kirkus Reviews
"Out of Eden is an expertly reported and deftly detailed field trip — to Tasmania, to the high seas, to a sewer-like California catchbasin — that reads like a mystery you can't put down. What Alan Burdick so dramatically reveals (and what science is just beginning to fully understand) is that nature is drastically more dynamic and more constantly changing than we ever imagined. It may be that no land was ever unspoiled, that Eden was full of so-called pests — that nature never really existed." Robert Sullivan
"Combining personal meditation, travel narrative, and excellent reportage, Out of Eden creates a rich and panoramic view of life on our planet." Alan Lightman
"Alan Burdick is my new favorite writer. I love the quiet poetry of his prose; his pitch-perfect wit; and his calm, potent mastery of the facts. I actually stop and think, Wow, as I'm reading." Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
"Surprising, delightful and sobering — it will take your breath away." Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink
In this stunning work of narrative nonfiction, the author tours the front lines of ecological invasion — in Hawaii, Tasmania, Guam, San Francisco, in lush rainforests, through underground lava tubes, on the deck of an Alaska-bound oil tanker.
Now as never before, exotic animals and plants are crossing the globe, borne on the swelling tide of human traffic to places where nature never intended them to be. Bird-eating snakes hitchhike to Hawaii in the landing gear of airliners; pernicious European zebra mussels, riding in ships ballast water, disrupt aquatic ecosystems across the United States; feral camels and poisonous foreign toads plague Australia; giant Indonesian pythons lurk beneath homes in suburban Miami. As alien species jump from place to place and increasingly crowd native and endangered species out of existence, biologists speak fearfully of “the homogenization of the world.” Never mind bulldozers and pesticides: the fastestgrowing threat to biological diversity may be nature itself.
Out of Eden is a dazzling personal journey through this strange and shifting landscape. Alan Burdick tours the front lines of ecological invasion in the company of world-class scientists: in Hawaii, Tasmania, Guam, San Francisco; in lush rain forests, aboard an Alaska-bound oil tanker, inside a spacecraft-assembly facility at NASA. Wry and reflective, animated and provocative, Out of Eden is a search both for scientific answers and for ecological authenticity, from a writer of remarkable range and talent.
Out of Eden is a 2005 National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction.
About the Author
Alan Burdick is a senior editor for Discover. His writing has appeared in that magazine as well as The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, GQ, Natural History, Grand Street and elsewhere. He lives with his wife in New York City.
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