Drama in Lake Victoria
This book tells the evolutionary story of the extraordinary "furu" and the battlefield leading to extinction.
Dazzling in their variety of sizes, shapes, and colors, the cichlids (small perch-like fishes) of Lake Victoria, like the finches of the Galapagos Islands and Hawaii's Honeycreepers, have been geographically isolated long enough to undergo unusually broad speciation. These small fish form a species flock—closely related species that have descended from a common ancestor and radiated, or fanned, into different specializations—that is the most spectacular in the world, fascinating anatomists, ecologists, ethologists, and evolutionary biologists alike. The process of speciation was still under way until just recently, when the introduction of the large, predatory Nile perch so disrupted the Lake's intricate ecosystem that the glorious spectrum of cichlids has almost vanished. Darwin's Dreampond tells the evolutionary story of the extraordinary "furu" and the battlefield leading to extinction. Tijs Goldschmidt skillfully blends a masterful discussion of the principles of neo-Darwinian evolution and speciation with a history of Lake Victoria's ecosystem. The science unfolds in the context of the engaging first-person narrative of Goldschmidt's adventures and misadventures as a field researcher. An astute observer and a clear and witty writer, he warmly portrays the colors and textures of the landscapes and the lives of the local people as he interacts with them during the course of his fieldwork.
Tijs Goldschmidt's account of the interplay of people and science in Lake Victoria is delightful, well-written, and deeply sincere. It conveys a sense of what it is like for a scientist to become involved in a politically and socially charged biodiversity issue in the tropics like no other book currently on the shelves. It tells a scientific story without parallel. Lake Victoria is the Galapagos of the twentieth century, but unlike Darwin's famed enchanted isles, the future of this miracle of evolution embraces the common futures of scores of peoples, tens of millions of individuals, and the credibility of scientists in the developing world.
Les Kaufman, Boston University Marine Program, Boston University
I can't think when I last read a 'biology book' that was as much fun as this one. The science is good throughout, and the tragic loss in the Lake is cogently explained. The translation is truly excellent and Tijs's refreshing style is faithfully maintained throughout this well paced and tightly constructed book.
Melanie L.J. Stiassny, Curator of fishes, American Museum of Natural History
The biological story itself is fascinating, and Mr. Goldschmidt tells it well. But the genius of his book lies in the way he has combined the science with travel writing. He interleaves the two in a highly readable way, so that his Tanzanian experiences lighten the science.... the book should give universal pleasure.
The New York Times Book Review
Tijs Goldschmidt has trapped a ghost image in this solid and highl yperceptive work - the glorious, haunting, and indecipherable complexity of biological life. Goldschmidt also shows us, however, that the human desire both to understand and to exploit such life is equally thought-provoking. Thus does Darwin's Dreampond become a first rate account of a modern scientist's field work among the cychlids and the Sukuma people of Lake Victoria.
Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams