four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
By: 
Tim Flannery
user_rating: 
0

A Continent, a Scientist, and a Search for the World’s Most Extraordinary Creature

A-Chasing KangaroosKangaroos, Australian paleontologist Tim Flannery claims, are "the most remarkable animals that ever lived." In this memoir-travelogue-natural history, he proves his point. Originally tiny, possum-like creatures, the 70-plus species survived a harsh environment, millions of genetic changes, and near extinction to become one of Australia’s most beloved icons. In his attempt to fill the gaps of knowledge about these marsupials, Flannery crosses the continent to explore their origins, far-ranging habitats, adaptations, and habits (including their sex lives), and uncovers a wealth of information from Aborigines, fossil hunters, and scientists. In sum, Flannery claims, the kangaroos are not only exceptional creatures but also "the truest expression of my country."
Grove Press. 272 pages. $24. ISBN: 0802118526

Globe and Mail (Toronto) 4 of 5 Stars
"Chasing Kangaroos should cement his reputation as one of our finest expositors of popular science, as well as a formidable guardian of Earth’s past and, inextricably, its future. … Flannery, true to his subtitle, is offering us not merely a consistently fascinating, even surprising, natural history (kangaroos that exude the smell of spoiled curry, ancient kangaroos with fangs), but a sort of dual evolutionary biography of his continent/country and of himself." Martin Levin

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"A book so wild and entertaining it bounds out of easy categories. … For anyone who loves a good road-trip story or who has marveled at the wonderful oddness of marsupials, this is the book you didn’t know you were waiting for." Emily Carter Roiphe

St. Louis Post-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"To Flannery’s credit, a book with potential to get bogged down in the esoteric is friendly to even the science-challenged. … If descriptions like that aren’t enough to sell Chasing Kangaroos to the American public, then consider this: The aforementioned sex scenes are even better." Steve Giegerich

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Flannery now creates a veritable kangaroo family album, portraying enormous prehistoric kangaroos tantalizingly suggested by painstakingly recovered fossils. … The book’s human portraits are no less diverse and offer telling glimpses into Australian society." Donna Seaman

Critical Summary

Tim Flannery tackled climate change in The Weather Makers ( 3.5 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2006); here, he seeks to understand the complex kangaroo family. Engaging, exuberant, and witty, Chasing Kangaroos discusses geology, evolution, anthropology, and biology while remaining a work of popular science. In illustrating the kanga’s complexity, Flannery examines different species—from the extinct male grey kangaroo that smelled of curry to the tammar, which can drink seawater. Mixed into this natural history is a fascinating travelogue as Flannery relates his outback adventures on motorcycle. A few reviewers criticized the back-and-forth nature of the book, the lack of information on kangaroo personality, and some hastily constructed chapters, but overall, Chasing Kangaroos is a fascinating, worthwhile read.