Meet Bill Bryson in Antarctica
This engaging book is by one of the world’s authorities on penguins who is also an award-winning writer with a style that is often compared to that of Bill Bryson. Part memoir, partly the research of a field biologist, Professor Penguin is based on journals kept during Davis’s years of working with penguins in the wild. The story takes readers to remote locations: Antarctica, the Galapagos, the deserts of Chile and Peru, the Falkland Islands, the wild coasts of Argentina and South Africa, and New Zealand.
A Life of Adventure
I don’t know exactly when it occurred. It’s not like there was ever a morning when I woke up with it, as if it were a tooth that hadn’t been there the night before. It developed slowly, like manhood, so that by the time I recognized it, it had already been there for as long as I could remember. The year was 1975 – I was 21, more man than boy – when I announced to the world that my lifelong ambition was to go to Antarctica.
Encounters with Penguins in Antarctica
“I have been studying penguins for the better part of my life. How I came to be so involved with penguins was largely an accident. But once that accident occurred, it changed my perspective on life. I came to be consumed by the questions and conundrums that penguins pose.”
The Intersecting Lives of Davis and an Adelie Penguin
The story follows one penguin in particular and how Davis is struck by the similarities between its life and his own.
The penguin came to a halt a few feet in front of me and shook its head, flippers outstretched. For whatever reason, it was not budging.
“I’ve always been focused on understanding the behaviour of penguins as individuals – the reasons for the strategies and decisions they make; the things that make for a successful life as individuals.”
Cape Bird: a second home
“Cape Bird... it was a name that should have been given to me; a place that, if not mine, had in some way become fused with me.”
“The colony formed the floor of a massive amphitheatre that was backed by the Mount Bird Ice-Cap, including a massive glacier tongue that careened down the slope and into the sea – if careening can be said to be a characteristic of any glacier. Except that this one looked so formidable and rugged, serrated by huge crevasses and decorated by monstrous icicles that hung from its 200-foot high lip, that I did not imagine for a moment that it hung about, moving sedately. It looked like it took no prisoners. It looked like it careened.”
Davis’ Developing Concern for Penguins
“...despite the fact that we have shafted so many penguins... despite the fact that most of them are listed as endangered or vulnerable, none have yet gone extinct on our watch. There is still hope and maybe there is still time.”
African Penguins: in 1914 there were 2,000,000. Today there are just:
Galapagos Penguins: in 1974 there were 10,500. Today there are just:
...without science, without penguin biologists, you can say all the pretty words you want about the way the world should be but that won’t alter it one little bit. To do that we need more than philosophy, we need knowledge – we need to know how to correct our mistakes. We need to know how to protect the world from ourselves...
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About Lloyd Spencer Davis
I see him as a cross between Bill Bryson and David Attenborough.
He received a CLL Writer’s Award — New Zealand’s most significant award for the support of nonfiction — for Looking for Darwin, which also won the Runner’s Up Award as the New Zealand Travel Book of the Year, 2008.
His other publications include Smithsonian Q&A Penguins, commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution, and Penguins of New Zealand (with photographs by Rod Morris). With Claudia Babirat he wrote the textbook The Business of Documentary Filmmaking.
Davis writes like Bill Bryson. A very rare gift. This book is superb.
Davis attended Victoria University of Wellington and Canterbury University before gaining a PhD at the University of Alberta in Canada, as Commonwealth Scholar. He currently holds the Stuart Chair in Science Communication at the University of Otago where, among other things, he teaches creative nonfiction writing. He has been a recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, an Anzac Fellowship and a Prince and Princess of Wales Science Award.
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Header Image Credit: Scott Davis