There are and have been many professional biologists who have specialized in studying the lives of amphibians and reptiles. Yet few of them have chosen to write memoirs of their lives and professional activities and priorities. Such memoirs in recent years have included those by Altig, Crump, Gibbons, Means, and Pianka, among others. Here, Harry Greene joins this group with an articulate and thoughtful memoir written as he nears 70 years of age after a lifetime of extremely diverse experiences, major accomplishments in his field, mentoring his own students, and associating with his own mentors. None of the latter have written their own memoirs but Greene makes up for this in recounting in detail the lives of expertise and devotion to their work by Henry Fitch, William Pyburn, and Gordon Burghardt. Fitch particularly was a mentor and icon to many of us in this field either directly in person or indirectly through his many publications on field studies of reptiles and other vertebrates, and it was extremely gratifying for me to read here about the breadth of his long career.
Greene modestly describes his early life including his initial scientific publications while still in high school, his disastrous attempts to pass courses when he started college, and his rapid maturation with life as an emergency medic dealing with peoples' serious and fatal injuries. He was drafted in the late 1960s and his ambulance experience enabled him to become an Army medic, luckily stationed in Europe for two years where he was able to search out reptiles, do research at museums, and broaden his overall horizons.
As we follow his career as a faculty member at UC Berkeley and Cornell University, Greene describes his field trips with students to diverse environments ranging from deserts of California to rain forests of Costa Rica. Subsequent chapters describe his pursuit of giant snakes in South America and Africa and a long-term study of rattlesnakes in Arizona. Snakes, spouses, mentors, and good friends and colleagues are recurrent themes throughout. Most personal anecdotes are interesting and serve mainly as ways to personalize the narrative.
I found a chapter on hunting deer and wild hogs to be less interesting, although that may be more because I have never been a hunter. This chapter seemed only tenuously connected to the major themes of conservation, evolution, and snake behavior and ecology.
Greene's work eloquently describes the joy and wonder and devotion that many of us in this field have had the good fortune to enjoy during our lives - the contact with iconic mentors, colleagues, and students, the field work on amazing animals, and the satisfaction of publication and recognition often shared with significant others.