E.O. WILSON liked Elizabeth's book. This is what he said about it: "With the eye of an anthropologist and a journalist's skills, Royte penetrates the world of the tropical biologists to explain their culture, passion, and above all their uniquely valuable work. As an exact and endearing chronicle, this book will have enduring value." BILL MCKIBBEN added that The Tapir's Morning Bath "is as droll as it is moving, as fascinating as it is lighthearted. Equal parts GERALD DURRELL and Scientific American, it deserves a wide audience."
The New York Times Book Review
October 7, 2001
The book fits into a lovely genre, a profile of a community, appropriate here because scientists behave in a particularly communal way. That is, one person poses a problem, another person answers it, someone else argues with the answer, another says the problem was wrong to begin with, and on and on--a long conversation that can take decades to converge. Profiles of communities often fail in at least four ways: the number of participants in the conversation is usually more than a reader can keep straight; the reader misses a central voice, a point of identification; the science gets cut-and-pasted into the text in a single compulsory lump, as does the history; and the story line is hard to track. But Royte is a remarkable writer, and nails all four. The science and history simply appear where they're needed. A lot of scientists are talking, but only a few have chapters to themselves, and their voices otherwise run throughout the book. The central voice is the author's, and she's a perfect guide: intensely curious, smart, occasionally unimpressed, a little relentless and so personal she lets us watch her taking a pregnancy test.
The fourth problem, tracking the story, is a little dicier. Here the obvious story line would be how the pieces of the latitudinal diversity gradient problem connect into a whole. But they don't connect; they can't yet. Nonfiction writers facing no obvious story line usually give up and hand the reader the pieces. Royte instead substitutes an emotional trajectory, from frustration to a kind of joy. For instance, Chrissy became so frustrated with the howlers' elusiveness, she'd yell, "I'm gonna chase that monkey down! I'm gonna kill it and eat it for dinner!" Chrissy's data, like Bret's, turn out to be barely sufficient to relate behavior to hormones, but she has a plan: she'll get a job, then tenure, then raise the money to hire assistants and do it right next time. Even so, she says, "This is stuff no one's gotten before." In short, Royte constructs the story line from the researchers themselves, their hierarchies, levels of social development, mating habits, and the backbreaking work that gets them bitten, wet, exhausted and pooped on. By the end, they've seen things no one has seen before, and have worked out a piece of one of the world's most complicated and spectacular systems--a spectacle that is, as Royte says, "on our watch, becoming rare." The book is a charmer; I loved it.
The New Yorker
October 8, 2001
In this mischievous report on Barro Colorado Island, a six-square-mile nature preserve in the middle of the Panama Canal, the tropical biologists who study the rain forest become themselves subjects for inspection and analysis. The author is a journalist, not a scientist, but she gamely tags along with researchers as they pursue spider-monkey dung and doctoral degrees, while stealthily collecting her own data on Homo academicus and its mating habits in the wild. Inevitably, though, she's distracted from the humans by the island's more exotic species: iridescent bees as big as gumballs and enterprising bats who construct tents out of heliconia leaves. By turns comic and poetic, the book delivers the pleasures of a long, meandering excursion, in which the act of observing is its own reward.
September 25, 2001
[Royte] is an excellent guide for her adventure: smart, curious and
unpretentious.... As a nonscientist, [she] is good at articulating the
public's present misgivings about science -- she's good at asking "why?"
The Christian Science Monitor
September 13, 2001
"Readers will come away from The Tapir's Morning Bath with an appreciation
of the way narrow research questions become the material from which useful
knowledge is constructed. But don't read it for that. Read it for the
thrill of the chase."
August 22, 2001
"Author Elizabeth Royte, a science writer and a regular contributor to Outside magazine, was a full participant in the island's sometimes-raucous social life, and her personal story complements her scientific musings in surprising ways. Her precise observations, both serious and funny, make her an excellent guide to the rainforest and its denizens."
August 1, 2001
"A finely drawn chronicle with an appealing moral edge."
July 30, 2001
"[An] excellent book, a superb introduction to tropical ecology and theoretical biology, as well as original and thoroughly engaging travel writing."
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