Thursday, October 25, 2007

Last Chance to See, by Douglas Adams

Yes, that Douglas Adams. Hitch-hiker's Guide to The Galaxy Douglas Adams. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe Douglas Adams. The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul Douglas Adams. Writing one of the most gentle, furious, loving, ranting, powerful non-fiction books to ever break my heart.

Adams (1952-2001) and his friend, zoologist and photographer Mark Carwardine were asked by the BBC to go look at some of the world's most endangered animals, and this is the resulting book.

From New Zealand to Kenya to China, they visit the passionate 'eccentrics' who devote their lives to saving such species and attempt to at least see the animals themselves. Komodo dragons, mountain gorillas, an awkward non-flying bird called an aye-aye, the baiji Yangtze river dolphin- each in terrible peril of being the last of its kind.

Adams' writing is always clever, and in this book he is able to bring some of his trademark absurdist humor into his writing, but reading it, his horror and sorrow come through.

The great joke of Hitch-hiker's is that the ugly and stupid Vogons destroy the Earth to make a hyperspace thru-way - it must have been appalling for Adams to come face to face with the fact that despite our so-called 'humanity', those grunting beasts are us.

Adams died in 2001. The last documented sighting (supported by photographic evidence) on the baiji dolphin was in 2002. In 2006 a massive survey of the Yangtze river and its tributaries failed to find even one. So long and thanks for all the fish, indeed.

I have a very hard time believing in an afterlife, but let me say this- I hope with every fibre of my being that Adams and a pod of baiji are heading for tea at the restaurant at the end of the universe.

Last Chance to See

Quality: 10 Popularity: 7 Overall: 17

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