As an author, Tim Flannery belongs with a group of popular nature writers, including Farley Mowat, Peter Matthiessen, and John McPhee. These authors always entertain while spreading their conservation message. With his gift for storytelling, Flannery can write big topic books, such as Here on Earth: A Natural History of the Planet, or he can recount professional experiences, as he did in Chasing Kangaroos. In Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific, Flannery does the latter, taking readers back to the 1980s when he traveled across the South Pacific conducting wildlife surveys on isolated islands.
Flannery's main goal was to discover mammal species that had reached islands before the arrival of humans. Some might have been stranded after the Ice Age when rising waters cut off islands from the continents to which they had belonged. Others may have floated in on debris. To identify these species, Flannery first studied the mammal collection in many major natural history museums. Then he led researchers on field trips looking for fossils and living species.
In Among the Islands, every field trip seems to have been an adventure taken at some risk. Many locations were remote, travel in small boats or planes was dangerous, and weather was often bad. While some islanders were welcoming, Flannery and his team inadvertently found themselves among rebels, criminals, and other hostile people. Even friendly people demanded they eat unappealing foods and participate in strange rituals. It was often a relief to get into the forest or onto a mountain where they could string their mist nets.
Readers will learn how and why naturalists take risks. They will also hear how development, especially unregulated mining and forestry, is endangering wildlife of the South Pacific. Among the Islands is quick reading and can be a good introduction to the literature of nature studies.
Flannery, Tim. Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2011. 246p. ISBN 9780802120403.