Jun 18, 2008

Review: The Snake Charmer: A Life & Death in the Pursuit of Knowledge

I am not a lover of snakes. In fact, they scare me to death. A friend of mine had one as a pet once and she would always try to get me to hold it. She just didn’t understand my extreme fear of them and that I had no desire to get to know her ‘pet’. I have a problem with reptiles as a whole. I won’t even go into my fear of alligators and my reoccurring nightmares I have of them. Living in Florida, this is a problem for me. Anyway . . .

Since he was a kid, Dr. Joe Slowinski had an interest in snakes that became an obsession as he grew older. Being a herpetologist, he made a name for himself as one of the most respected scientist to study venomous snakes. His entire life was dedicated to his research of these mysterious creatures. It is ironic that the very snakes he held so dear would end up taking his life.

In September 2001, Dr. Slowinski, along with his team, went to the Burmese jungle, in Myanmar, which is among the least explored areas in the world. This was his eleventh trip to the area. Between the terrain being so treacherous and the elements, it is nearly impossible to travel unless you are highly skilled and fully prepared for the experience. But he was confident there had to be previously unnamed venomous snakes in the region and he was determined to have a successful expedition. Sadly, that isn’t what happened.

This is a fascinating book by Jamie James, a journalist and author who resigned from The New Yorker in 1999 to relocated to Indonesia to write about Asia. In 2004 he actually traveled to the mountainous village in Burma where Dr. Slowinski had been bitten, and ultimately died, to begin his research for THE SNAKE CHARMER.

If you want to know about snakes and the different regions they come from Mr. James has put together an amazing course of study. It is a virtual herpetologist encyclopedia that offers a wealth of information on the snakes that Dr. Slowinski studied. The second half of the book chronicles the final expedition that took his life. Even if you’re like me and you don’t care for snakes, you can’t help but be impressed with his work.

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