Monday, September 20, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Saving the Ghost of the Mountain

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia (Scientists in the Field Series)Saving the Ghost of the Mountain: An Expedition Among Snow Leopards in Mongolia Sy Montgomery, photographed by Nic Bishop

I really love the Scientists in the Field series and this is volume is one of the reasons why.

Tom McCarthy studies Snow Leopards, a very rare cat that is rarely seen by humans. They are hunted for their fur and bones and are very good at hiding and blending in with their surroundings.

Like most of the books in this series, there is a biography of McCarthy focusing on how he got interested in science and Snow Leopards in particular. This book also focuses on one trip McCarthy takes, with Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop in tow, to study the Snow Leopards in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.

They have lots of ways of tracking the Snow Leopards-- some have been tagged on previous trips and have electronic trackers. They follow tracks and other leavings and markings. They set up motion triggered cameras.

In addition to documenting McCarthy's career and the trip, there is a wealth of information about Mongolia, the Gobi Desert, the people and the other animals that live there.

Despite all their work and all their looking, the group never spots an actual Snow Leopard. There, I think, is where this book is truly valuable. To quote Calvin and Hobbes, sometimes, scientific progress goes boink. Ok, not really. But, sometimes science doesn't go as planned. What might seem like a failure of a trip-- traveling around the world to the middle of the desert and looking for weeks, and not even catching a glimpse... despite the appearance of failure, the trip was still very informative for McCarthy. He was still able to collect valuable data not just for his work but for other scientists. They still learned a lot.

While this is a beautifully written and visually gorgeous book is chock full of information about Snow Leopards and Gobi Desert life, I think the most important lesson is the lesson that success doesn't always look like what we think it will, and that science doesn't always work the way we think it will.

I love this book. I think it got more than a bit shafted this past awards season (and not just by the Cybils) because it had the misfortune of coming out in the same year as The Frog Scientist, which is is the same series. But, this book is awesome as well and shouldn't be overlooked.


Nonfiction Roundup is over at Wrapped in Foil. Be sure to check it out!

Book Provided by... publisher for Cybils consideration

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1 comment:

Rasco from RIF said...

I indeed pledge to give it a read! Thank you, I don't think I have seen a science book where the exhibition planned did not produce the original goal...but as you say, it paid other dividends....great lesson for kids!