Mary Roach travels to various locations around the world with a history of animals coming into conflict with humans. At each place, she talks to local experts about how they’re working to coexist with the wildlife (or in some cases, eradicate it).
- Roach’s wry tone throughout the book keeps the subject matter from getting too serious, even as she’s talking about people maimed or killed in bear or tiger attacks, or the people who test humane ways to kill invasive species.
- Each essay leads into the next, making the book feel like a connected narrative instead of a series of isolated essays. (Even when the transition isn’t that graceful, the forced connection makes it funny).
- Mostly maintains an attitude of respect towards both the human and the animal subjects — there’s little of the ghoulish mocking of the Darwin Awards, for instance.
- Especially towards the end of the book, Roach’s style of writing is charming, combining what seems like exhaustive research with the tangential details she finds delightful.
- Shows real dedication to the stories, combining some traditional research with on-site interviews with experts in India, New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest, and others.
- Reminiscent of The Straight Dope in its combination of humor and matter-of-fact, thoroughly factual examinations of sometimes uncomfortable topics
- At least early on, the tone can come across as either flippant or trying too hard to be funny1And that’s something, coming from me.
- Even with a writer walking the tonal tightrope between disrespectful and macabre, some of the topics are just depressing to dwell on. It doesn’t make for light, fun, reading to realize that you’ve got to go through an entire chapter talking about killing stoats and possums and rats with traps or poison, and monitoring their humaneness by observing how long it takes them to die.
This is the first book by Mary Roach that I’ve read; as I understand it, the rest of her work is similar: a collection of essays combining research and wry humor, all centered on a specific topic like sex, death, or paranormal encounters. I wouldn’t classify these as humor, since they aren’t laugh-out-loud funny so much as attempting to keep dry or difficult topics readable. I’m looking forward to reading Spook.
- 1And that’s something, coming from me