Wednesday morning book notes

18 07 2007

Last night I finished Mark C. Ross’ memoir Dangerous Beauty, focusing on his years as a safari guide in Kenya and his first-hand account of the murders that took place at the Bwindi Forest, Uganda in 1999. I had never heard of the event before picking up the book, expecting from the sepia-toned cover for the book to be about the overall change from hunting safaris to photography safaris (I try not to read the summaries of books that I know I’m doing to read so I don’t have any expectations going on), but Ross’ book is a far more personal affair. While it is not as well-strung-together (our outright enjoyable) as A Primate’s Memoir and it does not draw you in the same way Cry of the Kalahari does, Ross presents vignettes of both joy and sorrow, often focusing on “nature red in tooth & claw” on the savanna. While the interactions between hyenas and wildebeests, crocodiles and zebras, and lions and cape buffalo often have gory consequences, the rhythms of nature stand out in sharp contrast to the senseless and brutal murders that took place eight years ago, and Ross’ terrifying account kept me rapt to attention.

Ross does not close the book off with the murder of his friends or the many sleepless nights he’s had to endure since the event, however, sharing a more heartwarming tale of a visit to a Samburu (related to, but different from, the Maasai) village, acknowledging that eco-tourism is essentially to both Uganda and the gorillas of the Impenetrable Forest. In reading first-hand accounts of Africa, I have often come across the common theme of at least once losing power to arrogant teenagers with guns or slightly older soldiers; Sapolsky was beaten and had his watch stolen, the Owens’ were kicked out of the country and threatened by the government, Ross was kidnapped and had two close friends murdered by terrorists, and yet all these people returned to Africa. None said “Ok, that’s it. I’m going home”. All, grateful to be alive, tried to learn from their experience and did not let the actions of other people sour them on the unique wildlife of the continent, wildlife that desperately needed study and conservation.

After putting Ross’ book down I immediately picked up Strange Creations by Donna Kossey, which is a good follow-up to Adrienne Mayor’s The First Fossil Hunters. Indeed, Kossey’s book catalogs various crackpot ideas about how Homo sapiens came to be, be it through alien mating experiments, being kept as pets by dinosaurs, special creation, or various other strange explanations. My only real gripe is that Kossey is not critical of the various views (instead presenting them as objectively as possible), but then again these ideas are generally so absurd that the reader is unlikely to believe them unless they’re already predisposed to them (at least I would hope so). I’m only about halfway through the first chapter (I picked up the book at 12 AM), but so far it is so strange that it demands my full attention. I look forward to reading the rest of it tonight.


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