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on 4 June 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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on 11 June 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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on 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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on 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.

The titillating tale of a female Swiss student trying to get a sperm sample from George, recounted with more than a hint of a raised eyebrow, is just one person's story out of many.

Eased in between all these themes comes science for conservation. Cloning, DNA analysis, the consequences of inbreeding, and oceanography are all explained effortlessly.

The survival of Pinta tortoises looks unlikely. By telling his story, and that of many other animals, Nicholls spells out that icons like Lonesome George are only thrust into the spotlight as a consequence of a number of ill informed human interventions. The story leaves an urgent hope that scientific advances and political policies can somehow help reverse some of the mistakes made in the past. Whether that happens in time for George to reproduce is anyone's guess.
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on 28 August 2006
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 Galápagos archipelago. Discovered in 1972 by a bemused snail hunter, George was shipped to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz and swiftly became the main attraction for the hundreds of thousands of visitors every year, and not simply because the Pinta tortoise was thought to be extinct. Rather, it appears that George, now a conservation icon, is more than a little reluctant to spearhead the resurrection of his species.

Told with a disarming humour, and packed with scientific titbits, Lonesome George's tale has all the adventure of pioneering conservation, some amazing confessions of animal cruelty from Darwin, the difficulties and anxiety of taxonomy, and at its heart, a very lonely giant tortoise.
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on 13 May 2007
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 archipelago in 1971.Soon afterwards he was transfered to the Charles Darwin research station on Santa Cruz island where he still is.LG has become an icon and is visited by an estimated 100,000 tourists per year .The book also deals with the history of tortoises on the Galapagos going back toDarwinbut also describes the other 10 species of tortoises on the islands.Afirst classbook with only one fault-there is no decent picture of LG.
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on 22 May 2007
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 finished it.

The book is far more than a story of a tortiose. Almost every animal you can think of, recieves a cameo in this absorbing narrative, accompanied by byte sized snippets of scientific research, debate and conjecture. I particularly enjoyed the final chapter on "clones and chimera's"

The illustrations added a lot for me, and all in all, I would regard it as a perfect travel companion.
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on 3 November 2006
This is the perfect present for anyone interested in wildlife, ecology, the environment, evolution, history, genetics, herpetology, travel, economics, politics, anthropology, philosophy and sex. Oh, and tortoises.

This is a great read. An important subject, beautifully written. Fascinating, funny and very sad. I add my multi-starred rating to a growing list of very well-deserved critical acclaim.

(And I wasn't joking about the perfect gift for anyone interested in sex - check out the Swedish lady with only one thing on her mind)
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on 24 August 2006
I find it truly amazing that the life story of a tortoise ends up being the catalyst for such a fascinating story about nature. Nicholls has found an incredibly humorous, intriguing and thrilling way to teach us about the history of science and contemporary science, using a giant tortoise as his witty muse. This book will appeal to just about anyone. I've just read that this has been longlisted for the Guardian First Book prize, and I'm not surprised and think it deserves shortlisting too.
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on 26 December 2011
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 Galapagos and other relevant cases of species in crisis and near extinction to create an interesting book.

If you're going to the Galapagos then this is worth either taking with you or reading before hand.
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