Tim Flannery

Read January 2007

When a book promises to be about “A continent, a scientist & a kangaroo”, and features a seemingly luxuriating kangaroo on the cover, you have to worry. Just how many stereotypes will we get into by page 10? Will there be any left?

So, despite my better judgment, I bought this book in Sydney. I couldn't have chosen better. Flannery is a thoughtful writer, and the scientist in him leaves the stereotypes to the cover, for the most part. A real student of the kangaroo, this book—rarely for a travel or even a so-called “science” book—actually discusses science, so you will finish it feeling not only entertained but also informed.

I must confess, I developed a sweet spot I never expected to for the kangaroo: it was a remarkable thing to watch in person, far more than I could have imagined, and I'm smitten. This book only fueled that, showing all the ways in which these are remarkable creatures adapted to their peculiar habitat. He discusses everything from the locomotion to the gestation to the evolution of the critters, while taking care to separate the different species of kangaroo from one another. There are points when this book ceases to be light reading (and more credit to it for that). It does have its problems, such as a certain repetitiousness (a better editor would have helped), and a bit of self-inflation (“... the day I found the bone of the grandfather of all kangaroos”: p. 104). And readers who dislike his “future eaters” theory should beware that he returns to it and tries to defend it.

Small problems aside, I can scarcely think of something better that would be equally accessible to the non-zoologist, and it's a book that will reward multiple readings. It'll be a better day when Flannery is asked to write the jacket blurb for Bill Bryson, rather than vice versa.