Thursday, November 05, 2009

Book Review: The Snake Charmer

I have no idea why I pick up and read through some of the books I do. The amazing thing about books is that sometimes a certain book grabs your mind (and occasionally later your heart) inexplicably in a moment, and when the moment is gone (or missed) that same book becomes nothing more than a dust collector on the shelf of your home or local library.

Monday I was at the library with the kids when I saw "The Snake Charmer" by Jamie James. I think it was the secondary title on the cover that caught my eye: A life and death in pursuit of knowledge. After reading a few pages I was instantly hooked. The Snake Charmer is a biography about the life of a herpetologist named Joe Slowinski. Before reading the book I had no idea what a herpetologist was; a herpetologist is someone who studies reptiles and amphibians. Until his untimely death in September 2001 from a snake bite in Burma Joe Slowinski was at the forefront of snake studies for much of the 90's decade.

James does a great job of summarizing and telling the story of Slowinski's life, a life centered on natures, learning and exciting encounters with animals. Slowinski comes across as a brilliant yet down-to-earth scientist who had a passion for life and wanted to live it to the full. In keeping with Malcolm Gladwell's observations in his book Outliers, there is much in Slowinski's life that uniquely lined up to shape him into the person he was. His parents freedom to travel due to thier profession gave Slowinski the chance to explore. His proximity growing up to a creek bed filled with fossils. Two essays written and scholarships awarded to help him continue his studies. Ending up at a college that was nationally recogized for its efforts in the field of herpetology. All of this, and more, built Slowinski into the scientist he was.

I apprecitaed the way James recalls the final expedition of Slowinski's life. He retells facts and anacdotes with the support of Slowinski's journal and conversations with many eye witnesses. In all the biography reads much like Jon Krakauer's account of the 1996 tradgey on Mt. Everest Into Thin Air. It is fast paced, informative, eductaional, and emotional.

A great read, even if you hate snakes!

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