Wild Thoughts from Wild Places

David Quammen, Author Scribner Book Company $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-684-83509-9
""Humanity badly needs things that are big and fearsome and homicidally wild,"" contends acclaimed science writer Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) in this collection of short pieces, most of which appeared originally in Outside magazine. Quammen is an eloquent and witty apologist for the forces of nature that ""civilized"" people often want tamed: whitewater rivers, avalanche-prone peaks, even cougars or coyotes living near suburban backyards. Despite the dangers and inconveniences such forces might pose to people, ""they give us perspective,"" Quammen writes. ""They testify that God... might not be dead after all."" Though his point of view is often not especially original and his analyses are necessarily brief, Quammen brings a well-honed sense of irony to essays that range from meditations on trout habitats to an exploration of Tasmanian geography and genocide. He is at his best when he muses on the deeper meanings of such phenomena as the physical properties of vortices, the life cycles of the barnacle or the evolutionary benefits of mammalian monogamy. Some essays, however, like ""You Can Run,"" which deals with viral outbreaks, seem dated--as do the several pieces on kayaking and skiing competitions. While Quammen's sportswriting is superior to most, it isn't outstanding enough to merit inclusion here. Nevertheless, the collection as a whole is distinguished by Quammen's broad-ranging intelligence, keen wit and unabashed passion for wild things and places. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998
Release date: 02/01/1998
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