Gone by Michael Blencowe

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

At the moment scientists think that we are in the midst of the sixth extinction. The attrition rate of what used to be common species is just shocking and whilst we know some of the headline species that are at a critical level, such as Javan rhinoceros and Snow Leopards, there are bound to be a lot of other species that we have no idea about that are at a similar critical level.

As morbid as it sounds, Michael Blencowe has had a fascination with extinct creatures since childhood. That fascination has fully developed into an obsession, the result of which is this book. He travels around the world in search of the remnants of some of his favourite long-gone creatures with the hope of seeing or maybe even getting to touch some of these animals that are sadly no longer with us.

There are eleven animals in this book that he is looking for and he will head to San Francisco, Finland and New Zealand to search for the last traces of these magnificent animals. His first creature, though is more local, the Great Auk. These used to live in the UK and could be found on the various tiny islands scattered across the North Atlantic seaboard, but he was heading to Lundy to see where a vicar had been given an enormous egg by an islander. These huge birds were not able to fly, rather they were more like the penguins in the Southern Hemisphere and almost exclusively aquatic creature, By 1830 there was just one island left with these magnificent birds on and ironically their rarity made them more valuable. Soon they were all gone. And we had killed every last one.

There are still remains though, these are tucked away in museums where he heads to see the last example of this species. Another bird that suffered at the hands of greedy collectors was the Spectacled Cormorant. This was gone by 1852, and it was only after this that it was discovered that it had a much wider range than just the Bearing Sea. Not quite as beautiful is the Steller’s Sea Cow which is a dugong with skin as furrowed as oak bark and weighing ten tonnes. These huge animals were first spotted after the naturalist, Stellar has spotted them in the sea on the island they were shipwrecked on. It wouldn’t be long before they were no more too.

Even though it is a grim subject, I thought that Blencowe has written a really nice book. He is a lyrical writer and at times his prose is quite funny. This is a well-researched book. On top of that, he is passionate about his long-gone subjects, deftly mixing in his current travels with the historical context of how these animals disappeared. It is a warning shot across the bows too, a reminder that we are responsible for a lot of these extinctions at the moment and it will only get better if we change our habits and practices and see that the entire biosphere is interlinked and that our actions will have dramatic consequences. I thought that the artworks in the book by artist, Jade They are just beautiful. Definitely worth reading too.

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2 Comments

  1. TripFiction

    A great review. I rather like this book having grown up near the Horniman Museum. It is so sobering what man has done to hurry extinction and he does write beautifully

    • Paul

      Thank you, Tina. It was just really nicely done with the artwork and his infectious enthusiasm in the prose

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