Tijs Goldschmidt - Darwin's Dreampond: Drama in Lake Victoria

Journal? Evolution textbook? Poetry? Plea for environmental conservation? Travel guidebook? Novel? History? Scripture?!? Goldschmidt has written a combination of the above which will delight and educate a wide range of audiences.

furu Darwin's Dreampond is essentially a history of the rise and fall of the "furu" (cichlid) of Africa's Lake Victoria. While this may not sound very interesting, Goldschmidt turns the subject into a real page turner. Intertwined with Goldschmidt's professional interest in the fish (and evolution in particular) is a story that anyone who has been a "stranger in a strange land" can relate to well. Goldschmidt (a European) is a "wanderer" near the equator in Africa. His notes on the quirks and peculiarities of the culture (which largely go unnoticed by natives--regardless of what culture the foreigner is describing) brought back many memories of my experiences as a "gaijin" in Japan. Most of these stories he uses to illustrate an evolutionary point or a facet of the human condition.

The story on page 106 is ironic and typical of the points the author tries to get across. An African lady on her way back from church (she had a Bible on her head) throws stones at our distant cousins the baboons because they eat her corn. Several of the other experiences the author shares relate more to evolutionary mechanisms such as sexual and natural selection. If you've read The Blind Watchmaker, but found yourself wanting more information on the dynamics of sexual selection in the wild, then this is the book for you. (And if you want even more check out this book.)

Another interesting aspect, which pretty much all thinking humans can relate to, is Goldschmidt's occasion to ask himself "what am I doing this for?". In his case, it relates to choosing to study fish in an odd land, living in poverty conditions, and without a perfectly clear and concise objective in mind. I think we've all felt that way at one time or another even if our predicament wasn't nearly as bizarre.

Ultimately, Darwin's Dreampond makes powerful statements and observations on the human population problem (especially in Chapter 9). Our over-manipulation of other species and forms of life on the planet and paradoxical under-control of our own reproduction is stressing many current species (including our own) to a breaking point. Cultural traditions and lack of big-picture thinking are the two major causes. Unless these problems can be dealt with far more effectively in the future than they have in the recent past, future generations will suffer to an even larger degree.

From The Publisher:
Darwin's Dreampond tells the evolutionary story of the extraordinary "furu" and the battlefield leading to extinction. Tijs Goldschmidt skillfully blends a masterful discussion of the principles of neo-Darwinian evolution and speciation with a history of Lake Victoria's ecosystem. The science unfolds in the context of the engaging first-person narrative of Goldschmidt's adventures and misadventures as a field researcher. An astute observer and a clear and witty writer, he warmly portrays the colors and textures of the landscapes and the lives of the local people as he interacts with them during the course of his fieldwork.

"The biological story itself is fascinating, and Mr. Goldschmidt tells it well. But the genius of his book lies in the way he has combined the science with travel writing. He interleaves the two in a highly readable way, so that his Tanzanian experiences lighten the science. . . . the book should give universal pleasure." -- Mark Ridley