Gone by Michael Blencowe [7/10]

Extinction of species is taking place at a rate one or two magnitudes greater than evolution’s outcome, with humans the immediate and background cause. As a child, naturalist Michael Blencowe was fascinated, as only children can be, with tales and pictures of near-mythic animals, birds, and butterflies that have disappeared from our plant. “Gone: A Search for What Remains of the World’s Extinct Creatures” is his passionate, engaged tale of finding what traces are left of eleven vanished species. A most determined historian of doom, Blencowe travels from the Bering Sea to the Galapagos isles, from Finland to San Francisco. The onsite trips are evocative, but even more so are his reverent forays into museums with their fossils, skeletons, and preserves carcasses. He pursues the leftover remnants of the last Great Auks on a forsaken Devon island and in a Danish museum. New Zealand’s sad history of its isolated, vulnerable birds killed and eaten is told thrice by the author, with the Moa’s demise striking me as most tragic. The Dodo, he writes, “has achieved a dubious immortality: the smiling face of extinctions.” The tone throughout is a convivial mix of pithy recounting of histories and flights of easygoing lyricism. Towards the end, he expertly weaves in wider questions enmeshed with global warming. For anyone brewing over our fate and Earth’s fate, Gone is a welcome, enjoyable feast.

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