What To Read Before Your Galápagos Vacation


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With their oversize wildlife and gorgeous scenery, the Galápagos Islands in Ecuador have long attracted nature lovers. Charles Darwin visited in 1835 and was inspired to write his seminal work, “The Origin of Species.” Yet that which has allowed the unmatched natural ecosystem to thrive — its isolation, in particular — has also made it inaccessible to many travelers. Over the last ten years, tourism to the archipelago has opened up. If you plan to go, or need some convincing, here are three books on this remarkable destination.

THE EVOLUTION OF JANE (1998)
By Cathleen Schine
210 pp.; Houghton Mifflin

Jane Barlow Schwartz is 25 years old and divorced when she decides to go on a nature tour of the Galápagos Islands. Her tour guide turns out to be her childhood best friend and distant cousin, Martha Barlow, with whom she’d had a mysterious rupture in the ninth grade. Through Jane, Cathleen Schine delivers a story that is part travelogue — Jane describes, with impressive accuracy, the blue-footed boobies and other natural phenomena she encounters while pondering scientific questions on taxonomy and natural selection — and part family saga, as Jane uses what she learns about nature to get to the bottom of what had caused the personal rift.

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THE BEAK OF THE FINCH (1994)
A Story of Evolution in Our Time
By Jonathan Weiner
332 pp.; Alfred A. Knopf

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Jonathan Weiner follows a group of biologists from Princeton University, led by Peter and Rosemary Grant, as they study the beaks of 13 finch species (known as Darwin’s finches) on the Galápagos island of Daphne Major. Weiner interweaves natural and human history, and reports on the Grants’ groundbreaking discovery that in just a generation — they had been observing the finches for 20 years — the species’ beak size had evolved. Darwin’s theory, then, had been off: natural selection is not rare, slow, and imperceptible. In fact, it can happen right before our eyes.

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GALÁPAGOS (1985)
By Kurt Vonnegut
295 pp.; Delacorte Press

Narrated from a vantage point one million years in the future, “Galápagos” follows a mismatched group of celebrities and a lesser-known cast of characters (including a schoolteacher, an Ecuadorean sea captain, and a former male prostitute) as they set off on a cruise to the fictional island of Santa Rosalia in the Galápagos. The time is 1986, and the world is in the midst of a global crisis that includes famine, financial disaster and a Third World War. The crew is shipwrecked, and when a virus that eats the eggs in human ovaries renders most of the world infertile, only they can reproduce humankind. In this work of satire and science fiction, Vonnegut imagines a human species that has evolved to have smaller brains, flippers and beaks for catching food. “Galápagos” is a commentary on the fragility of humanity and the world it has created.

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