Notebooks from New Guinea: Reflections on life, nature, and science from the depths of the rainforest
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This is a unique and delightfully engaging account by a leading tropical biologist of doing science at one of the last wild frontiers in the world. Vojtech Novotny is a highly respected Czech scientist. His widely cited work, of profound importance to ecology and evolution, is not done, like much modern science, in a lab full of gleaming apparatus. Instead, he chose as his 'laboratory' the remotest parts of Papua New Guinea, where he has established a researchstation. Supported by a team of Papuans whom he has trained up so that they can combine their wide and intimate knowledge of the plants and animals of their tropical forest with the knowledge of modern science, Novotny studies the ecological interactions of butterflies and plants. Clearly this is no ordinary scientist. Combined with his intrepid courage (PNG is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, with a very high homicide rate), he is a shrewd observer of human nature. In the richly varied notes and reflections of this very individual volume are not only descriptions of natural history and scientific research in the rainforest, but accounts of the local peoples and their culture, the challenges of working across very different cultures, and amusing portraits ofthe antics of Western tourists, separated by a few 'intermezzi' - episodes when the author fought bouts of malaria. Novotny is that rare combination of excellent scientist and superb storyteller. The faithful translations by David Short bring these notes and reflections on science, nature, and human beings to a wide audience, without any loss to their richness, warmth, humility, and wisdom. The volume is illustrated with beautiful drawings by a self-taught Papuan artist, Benson Avea Bego, who lives in a remote village.