The Galapagos: A Natural History

Kindly contributed by Longitude’s founder (and Galapagos Naturalist Guide #137) Darrel Schoeling.

Even those of us who are Darwin-obsessed and tend to roam the world with binoculars in hand will learn something from Henry Nicholls’ thoroughly engaging and deftly distilled primer on the Galapagos Islands. From rocks to ocean, seabirds, plants, invertebrates, land birds, reptiles and humans (which get three chapters out of 10), he weaves the history of discovery in Galapagos with eyewitness reports, the ecology and evolution of the archipelago and conservation challenges — all in just 150 pages.

Naturally, Charles Darwin and friends, Herman Melville (the seafaring author visited aboard a whaling ship), the oft-quoted Fray Tomas de Berlanga (first to write about Galapagos in 1535) and other notables make an appearance, but so does pioneering aquanaut William Beebe, Eleanor Roosevelt (who cheered up U.S. troops stationed in Galapagos during WWII) and contemporary scientists like Peter and Rosemary Grant, polarizing Galapagos National Park Service Director RaquelMolina and others at work today.

Don’t turn to this book for pretty pictures (illustrations are few) or maps and diagrams (relegated to an appendix) but for a succinct overview of the islands, their history, nature and import, the book is admirable. The London-based Nicholls is the author of Lonesome George, about the last tortoise of Isla Pinta and editor of the newsletter of the Galapagos Conservation Trust, where he is also an ambassador. Extra credit for anyone who can identify the birds depicted on the gorgeous cover, as illustrated by John Gould in Charles Darwin’s Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle.