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Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of the World's Most Famous Tortoise [Paperback]

Henry Nicholls
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 May 2007
One tortoise's tale of conservation, commerce, cloning, combat and collecting on the high seas

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Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of the World's Most Famous Tortoise + Galapagos: The Islands That Changed the World
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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprint edition (4 May 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330450115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330450119
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.2 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 306,043 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'an admirably tight, witty guide to the conservation of endangered
species.' -- Observer

Book Description

Lonesome George is on the stamps of the Galapagos Islands. He is a 5ft long, 200lb tortoise aged between 60 and 200. In 1971 he was discovered on the remote island of Pinta, from which tortoises had supposedly been exterminated by whalers and seal hunters in search of a square meal. He was carted off to his current home, the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz island. He has been there ever since, on the off chance that scientific ingenuity will conjure up a way of reproducing him, and resurrecting his species. Meanwhile a million tourists and dozens of baffled scientists have looked on as George shows not a jot of interest in the female company provided. Henry Nicholls details the efforts of conservationists to preserve the Galapagos ' unique biodiversity and illustrates how their experiences and discoveries are echoed the world over. He explores the controversies raging over which mates are most appropriate for George and the risks of releasing crossbreed offspring into the wild. His story draws together the islands' geology, evolution, history of human exploitation and imperrilled future. It features strong characters, from Charles Darwin, to cloning pioneer Ian Wilmut, to the beautiful Swiss graduate who spent four months trying to persuade George to have sex. Some 100,000 tourists visit the Galapagos Islands each year; all drop in on George.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lonesome George 4 Jun 2006
Lonesome George is a giant tortoise. Not just any giant tortoise but possibly the last of his kind. He was discovered in 1971 on one of the Galapagos Islands, Pinta, where tortoises had been thought to be extinct. This is his story.

Henry Nicholls' account of the George and the plight of giant tortoises in the Galapagos is rich in detail but at the same time light-hearted and compelling. The book not only chronicles George's capture, the efforts to find him a mate and the difficulty of obtaining sperm samples from a reluctant tortoise but also includes a fascinating introduction to the many issues that surround the science of conservation. It also provides insight into how scientists try to solve puzzles such as how tortoises got to the Galapagos islands in the first place and how to assess the potential risks of releasing cross-breed offspring into the wild.

The way that the author can put forward many different theories without disrupting the flow is impressive. As a reader you will gladly follow a diversion to a discussion about a different species or how specimens are catalogued in the Natural History Museum and as such this book is much more than just a story about a tortoise. It manages to weave many major concepts of biology into the tale without feeling like a textbook: from Darwin, to DNA analysis, to cloning.

George is not just a tortoise but also a conservation icon and this message is loud and clear throughout the book. He is an ambassador to remind us to think about what we are doing to the world, and does a very good job.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The case of a vanishing tortoise 16 May 2006
Lonesome George is a somewhat sad figure, spending his days in a research station, the last of his kind left on earth. Henry Nicholls tells us his story and his rise to 'poster boy' for the conservation movement. Written in such a way as to draw you in to the history behind the current events, Nicholls uses George to address the more general problems that conservationists face all over the planet. Never judgemental and never preaching, Nicholls tells us how it is, the problems we face and the possibilities available for the continuation of animals such as Lonesome George. Written in a highly readable style and often amusing, I found this book extremly informative and would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone with an interest in history, conservation or just those that like a jolly good read.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bittersweet delight 11 Jun 2006
I bought this after being recommeded it by a friend who'd been to the Galapagos and seen the subject of this book with his own eyes.

It's a story which will interest anyone interested in conservation, the animal kingdom, our species' increasingly complex relationship with animals (and very importantly the 'idea' of animals). Oh, and of course tortoises.

If you've ever enjoyed the essays of Stephen J Gould, the technique of taking a small detail and using it to expound a far bigger story with anecdotes and diversions along the way, this is for you.

Nicholls takes us on a steady journey, never losing sight of his protagonist, but not shying from illuminating some of the more obscure (even obscene) corners of naturalism and conservation. all one can say is that there are some VERY passionate people out there protecting Earth's species!

Never overly worthy, but thought-provoking, 'Lonesome George' leaves a slightly wistful, sad feeling of impending loss. Nicholls never resorts to easy solutions or black and white arguments about the future of this particular area of conservation.

The style is supremely readable, and the all important science never over complicated, but equally never patronising.

I had stopped reading books like this just when 'popular science' became ubiquitous. Works like this restore my faith in the genre, and I shall be looking for this author again.

One suggestion: Make a TV series!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars shaggy dog ecology 4 May 2006
Ecology and wildlife preservation have an aura of worthiness about them. Good people doing battle to save the planet and its inhabitants, both human and non-human, plant and animal. But often other battles are being fought.

Take the sea-cucumber fishermen of the Galapagos islands. The fishermen's attitude to their environment - that the planet provides a source of support to be exploited - is entirely different to that of a conservationist. So when laws to restrict sea cucumber fishing hit the fishermen, they hit back at the conservationists - the foreigners.

Their main target was Lonesome George, possibly the last surviving giant tortoise from Pinta, a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago. The threat from irate fishermen is just one facet of George's eventful story, as told by Henry Nicholls.

Nicholls tells a complex ecological shaggy-dog story. And like all stories in that genre, this one leaves you feeling somewhat unsatisfied. Not by the storytelling, but by the plight of George. The future for the Pinta tortoise family is far from safe.

Nicholls' recurring theme is Lonesome George as a conservation icon, and as the story of this remarkable beast's life pans out, the impact of humans on some of the world's most endangered species becomes a horrible recurring theme.

Perhaps in an attempt to ease the sense of guilt, Nicholls wanders in and out of historical narrative. The book brings the reader face to face with Darwin when he was tramping the Galapagos in the mid-19th century, and dryly tells of one explorer who investigated whether tortoises could swim by consistently lobbing one over the side of his boat.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read.
This is a great book explaining the fantastic storey of lonesome George, a conservation icon. Well written, informative and engaging
Published 14 months ago by Tom
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a read, especially if you're going to the Galapagos
An enjoyable and entertaining read. At first you might think that a story about just one animal might not be that interesting, but the author weaves in history of both the... Read more
Published on 26 Dec 2011 by S. Dyer
5.0 out of 5 stars A Perfect Travel Companion
I started reading this book whilst on a longish train journey. It took me a chapter or two to get used to the style, but after that, I was unable to put the text down, until I had... Read more
Published on 22 May 2007 by Melvin Carvalho
5.0 out of 5 stars lonesome george
This is a marvellous account of the life of Lonesome George {LG] the last tortoise of the species Geochelone nigra abingdoni found on the remote Pinta island in the Galapagos... Read more
Published on 13 May 2007 by G. I. Forbes
5.0 out of 5 stars Stick this on your Christmas list!
This is the perfect present for anyone interested in wildlife, ecology, the environment, evolution, history, genetics, herpetology, travel, economics, politics, anthropology,... Read more
Published on 3 Nov 2006 by Bea Perks
4.0 out of 5 stars tale of the greater floating tortoises
One of the ten titles on this year's Guardian First Book Award, this is the story of Lonesome George, the last surviving giant tortoise from the island of Pinta in the... Read more
Published on 28 Aug 2006 by GRBD
5.0 out of 5 stars Longlisted for the Guardian First Book prize
I find it truly amazing that the life story of a tortoise ends up being the catalyst for such a fascinating story about nature. Read more
Published on 24 Aug 2006 by Mr. Zaid Al-zaidy
5.0 out of 5 stars Not what you would imagine
Henry Nicholls has pulled off the trick of writing about a scientific subject for the lay person that is as good as reading a novel. Read more
Published on 9 July 2006 by Leonor Stjepic
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