Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Snake Charmer by Jamie James

The Snake Charmer by Jamie James is a fascinating look at a herptologist, Joseph Slowinski and his life and career. That life was cut tragically short when he was bitten by a venomous snake while on an expedition to Burma. The book details Joe's early fascination with nature, and how his childhood experiences steered toward a career in science. Specifically, he chose the field of herptology and was known as a master biologist. His contributions to the field were such that he was recognized as one of the premier herptologists at a young age. This prominence had it's underside though; Joe's reputation as a hard drinking, rule-breaking danger-loving explorer.

The expedition to Burma was a scientific and politcal breakthrough. Burma is one of the last remote places where scientific surveys have not been systematically conducted. This is due mainly to the despotic government as well as the ruggedness of the terrain with the attendant difficulties of exploring. Joe's expedition included scientists researching birds, reptiles, insects and plants, in addition to the snakes. Several new species were discovered. Joe stuck his hand into a collection bag and was bitten by a krait, the most venomous snake in Asia. The story of how the expedition members attempted to keep Joe alive is detailed, along with the fact that Joe knew exactly what would happen to him and discussed his death and the stages of his reactions in detail with his campmates. A krait bite is not an instanteous death; Joe lived for over a day after the bite.

The book is arranged in chapters, and each chapter starts with a description of a different snake. Along with Joe's story, there were lots of facts about snakes and reptiles. For example, I learned that all snakes are venomous in some degree. Another interesting note was that there is a worldwide decrease in the number of frogs and other amphibians. The information about Burma and the inside look at how research expeditions are mounted and how they work was also interesting. This book is recommended for those interested in nature and those whose work includes categorizing the world around us.


Bookfool said...

That sounds like a fun book. How did you end up finding this one?

Anonymous said...

It was a review book. I believe it was from AuthorsOnTheWeb, or something very similiar to that. I can send you the contact info tonight when I get home if you'd like.

Bookfool said...


I'd love that -- sorry it took me so long to reply. The "email follow-up comments" feature didn't work until I got a gmail, a few days ago.