Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: The Ghost with Trembling Wings

Posted by Kirk
I picked up The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species more out of habit than anything else. I've made it a habit to read any book by Scott Weidensaul. This is a very good habit. 

I knew little more than the title but it turns out the book was so much more than I expected. Silly me. As I should have expected, Weidensaul isn't content to sit in his chair at home surfing the web for information and then musing academic about lost species. This book is about the human drive to get out there and look. 

Weidensaul travels the globe and we get to come along. I admit a bit of a soft spot for Cryptozoology, the search for animals that may or may not exist. I teach a Cryptozoology summer camp and my bookshelves at home hold such treasures as Cryptozoology A To Z by Loren Coleman, The Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology by Michael Newton and even classics such as On the Track of Unknown Animals by Bernard Heuvelmans and Animal Treasure by Ivan T. Sanderson.

Weidensaul treks across the English countryside looking for big cats, he prowls Tasmania looking for the Thylacine, he takes his turn looking for the Ivory Billed Woodpecker. 

Unlike a simple travelogue or a blinded-by-faith cryptozoology tract, Weidensaul examines human nature to try to suss out why it is we are so obsessed with species on the edge and species that elude our knowledge.

Weidensaul's writing style shines through in this gem of a book. I found myself lost in his descriptions. I trudged though the cerrado savanna of South America with sweat bees driving me crazy while we looked for the Cone-billed Tanager. I hiked next to him in the wilderness of Tasmania as he pointed out trees and birds and everything except a tasmanian tiger.

He is a gifted writer and this is one of his most adventurous books. When I finished, I was left wanting nothing short of more time in the woods, prairies, savannas, deserts and jungles of the world armed with binoculars and hope.