Monday, June 22, 2009

The Remarkable Life of William Beebe: Explorer and Naturalist by Carol Grant Gould

This is the entry for an adventure biography reviewed in my upcoming book Real Lives Revealed: a Guide to Reading Interests in Biography. William Beebe was a romantic figure who led nearly fifty expeditions for the New York Zoological Society and the American Museum of Natural History. Due to his station as director of the society's Department of Tropical studies and the wide popularity of his travel memoirs, he knew every important conservationist from Teddy Roosevelt to Rachael Carson. He also knew Noel Coward, Will Rogers, and many smart, beautiful women.

Gould, Carol Grant
The Remarkable Life of William Beebe: Explorer and Naturalist. Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2004. 447p. ISBN 1559638583.

In 1932, long before Jacques Cousteau explored the oceans, William Beebe (1877–1962) broadcast on the radio from a bathysphere a half a mile below the ocean surface, describing fish and other creatures never before seen by humans. Long before the television age of David Attenborough, Beebe traveled to remote jungles seeking out rare and new species of animals and plants for his magazine articles and books. As the first ornithologist for the Bronx Zoo, the energetic scientist collected and studied birds from around the globe. Given access to Beebe’s papers at Princeton University , Gould has written an adventure story about a now-forgotten celebrity of early twentieth century zoology that will appeal to viewers of televised nature programs as well as other readers.

Subjects: Beebe, William; Explorers; Naturalists; Zoologists

Now try: Beebe’s own books mix memoir and science. His titles include Two Bird Lovers in Mexico, Half Mile Down (about deep sea diving), and Galapagos: World’s End. A more recent naturalist who will go anywhere to get a story is David Attenborough. He recounts his career of making nature films in Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster. Zoologist Gerald Durrell describes growing up with animals in his highly entertaining My Family and Other Animals. Carl Sagan was another enthusiastic scientist who doubled as media celebrity. Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos by William Poundstone captures a life in the pursuit of knowledge that is free of difficult science reading. Peter Matthiessen has also traveled the world seeking to see wildlife in natural habitats. In The Snow Leopard he describes his attempt to see the reclusive cats on the rocky cliffs of the Himalayan Mountains.

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