Book Jacket Synopsis: “Douglas Adams has taken millions of readers on wild excursions through time and space in his bestselling Hitchhiker’s Trilogy and Dirk Gently novels. Last Chance to See continues this tradition – but the time is now and every word is true. Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine took off around the world in search of exotic, endangered creatures. What they found will by turns amuse, fascinate, and touch you. Join Adams and Carwardine as they encounter the animal kingdom in its stunning beauty, astonishing variety, and imminent peril: the giant Komodo dragon of Indonesia, the helpless but lovable Kakapo of New Zealand, the blind river dolphins of China, the white rhinos of Zaire, the rare birds of Mauritius Island in the Indian Ocean. Hilarious and poignant – as only Douglas Adams can be – Last Chance to See is an entertaining and arresting odyssey through the Earth’s magnificent wildlife galaxy.”
Review: I came across Last Chance to See under a rather unusual set of circumstances: namely, it was in the small but varied library of a 40-foot ocean-going sailboat that I inhabited for three weeks. Given that I have been meaning to venture into the world of Douglas Adams for awhile now (I still haven’t gotten around to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), I was excited to see an Adams book on board. Last Chance to See ended up being one of the funniest and most fascinating books I have read this year. Like countless Adams fans have already discovered, Douglas Adams is a hilarious storyteller. His prose was candid and easily captured the many less-than-glamorous aspects of trekking to remote locations in search of incredibly rare animals. The banter between him and co-author Mark Carwardine suggests that the two got sick of each other quite often in the field, but that they also managed to balance one another out. Each chapter focuses on a different species that the duo is attempting to track down, and this epic story takes the reader all the way from the mountains of Zaire to the depths of the Yangzte River. Along the way, the authors and their companions manage to create many ridiculous memories (like trying to find condoms in China to create a makeshift hydrophone) and have incredible experiences in the animal kingdom. Douglas certainly tends towards introspection after many of the encounters, and has the following interesting thought after spending time face-to-face with a silverback mountain gorilla:
“What is there to suggest we would listen to anything an ape could tell us? Or that it would be able to tell us of its life in a language that hasn’t been born of that life? I thought, maybe it is not that they have yet to gain a language, it is that we have lost one.”
I finished Last Chance to See in roughly four hours. It was a quick, enjoyable, amusing read, and I would certainly recommend it to any animal lover. Humor aside, Last Chance to See is a poignant novel that takes a hard look at how humans are forever altering the flora and fauna of this planet. Douglas’ message of warning is made even more potent given that in the time since Last Chance to See was published (1990), at least one of the featured species has already gone extinct: the Yangzte river dolphin, more commonly known as the baiji, hasn’t been seen in Chinese waters since 2004. Even if a few individuals are still alive, the baiji is considered functionally extinct (meaning that there is little to no hope for actual revival and preservation of the species). Many of the other species featured in Last Chance to See face a similar fate if we do not begin to alter our treatment of this planet.
“There is one last reason for caring, and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos, and dolphins. And it is simply that the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them.”