A Galapagos cruise is one of the most sought after wildlife travel experiences available to nature lovers and this fascinating archipelago off the coast of Ecuador is home to the most unique plant and animal life on Earth. The rest of the world discovered the Galapagos Islands when naturalist Charles Darwin undertook his research in this 'natural laboratory', which became the basis for his Theory of Evolution. |
While not everyone may have the attention span or the desire to attempt Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" (published 1859), there are countless other books dedicated to, or set around, the archipelago.
The Beak of the Finch: Jonathan Weiner
Weiner received the Pulitzer Prize for this book, which follows the life's work of evolutionary biologists Rosemary and Peter Grant on the island of Daphne Major. The pair and their team spent more than 20 years studying the natural selection of finches and, incredibly, were able to recognise individual birds. They have studied more than 20 generations of finches (without a break) and have been able to draw some fascinating conclusions, with access to DNA that Darwin was not afforded. The most compelling aspect of the book is Weiner's observations on the implications to our own evolution in a changing global environment.
Galapagos, A Natural History: Michael Jackson (Revised and expanded, 2016)
As an exhaustive guide to the ecology, climate, plants, animals and habitats of the archipelago, this book is one of the most comprehensive and easily digestible on the market. Unusually for a natural history guide, Jackson intersperses the facts with numerous stories from his experiences on the islands working as a zoologist and naturalist guide.
Lonesome George, The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon: Henry Nicholls
Most visitors who embark on a Galapagos cruise will, at some time in their journey, encounter the story of Lonesome George – the last of the Pinta Island Giant Tortoises. George was discovered in 1971, long after the sub species was believed to be extinct, and relocated to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz. For many years, scientists and rangers tried without success to interest him in female company with the view to re-establishing his lineage. Unfortunately, Lonesome George died in 2012 without passing on his genes, but he became the iconic face of the challenges faced by conservationists working with vulnerable species.
Galapagos, A Novel: Kurt Vonnegut
For a lighter read (although arguably as enlightening) the acclaimed satirical author takes a look at the world through a very original lens, taking the reader back more than a million years, to 1986 A.D., when a cruise holiday turns into something far more complex.
Following an apocalyptic event, a group of shipwrecked survivors is stranded in the archipelago (although the fictional island of Santa Rosalia is chosen as the location). The rest of the world falls victim to a disease that renders everyone infertile – so the survivors become the last of the human species able to reproduce. Fast forward a million years and the species has evolved into a kind of furry, land mobile sea lion, which has perfectly adapted to the environment of these isolated islands. With the aid of an omniscient spirit narrator, this highly original novel addresses the complexities of the "oversized human brain" and its relation to the sorrows of the world.
For anyone heading off on a Galapagos cruise, any of these four book recommendations would make for an interesting read or a valuable resource.
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in the unique wildlife of the Galapagos Islands. Marissa chooses the expert-led Galapagos cruise itineraries organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in one of the most spectacular regions on Earth
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