Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index



to e-mail us:

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK



the Complete Review
the complete review - science / history

Return of the Crazy Bird

Clara Pinto-Correia

general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Return of the Crazy Bird

Title: Return of the Crazy Bird
Author: Clara Pinto-Correia
Genre: Science / history
Written: 2003
Length: 197 pages
Availability: Return of the Crazy Bird - US
Return of the Crazy Bird - UK
Return of the Crazy Bird - Canada
  • The Sad, Strange Tale of the Dodo
  • With numerous illustrations

- Return to top of the page -

Our Assessment:

B- : interesting, but not quite brought to life

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The dodo is famous as a species driven to extinction by man. Living in isolation on the Mascarene Islands in the Indian Ocean (specifically Mauritius, but with similar birds (meeting a similar fate) also on (relatively) nearby Réunion and Rodrigues), the large, flightless birds had evolved in an environment where they faced no predators -- and few competitors for the resources they relied on. By the sixteenth century man began visiting and settling on the islands, upsetting the long undisturbed ecological balance by importing animals (including, devastatingly, rats) while also spurring on destruction by hunting down the easy to capture dodos. By the late seventeenth century there were no more dodos.
       In Return of the Crazy Bird Clara Pinto-Correia tells the story of the dodo's fate, from its first contact with humans through its extinction through the rediscovery of the bird as both symbol and object for scientific study. Unlike David Quammen's book on island biogeography, The Song of the Dodo (not under review but highly recommended: get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), Return of the Crazy Bird focusses less on the evolutionary wonder that was the dodo and instead considers the bird mainly through the actual human eyes that saw (and then studied and wrote about) it. So, for example, Pinto-Correia tells of the first voyagers to these remote islands and what they found there. And one chapter focusses almost entirely on Rudolf II and the court painters he had capture the likeness of the dodo.
       There is a great deal of information here, but much of it is presented in an odd narrative rush: a great deal of citation -- long quotes from old sources -- lends an air of authenticity, but Pinto-Correia doesn't tie the pieces together neatly, and instead of an actual narrative much of the book seems much like a mere list -- of observations and the like. Rudolf II and his story are fascinating, but distract from the dodo-focus; surely a broader attempt to trace the fates of all the dodos brought back to Europe would have been far more interesting. Similarly, François Leguat's adventures on Rodrigues, where he and a few Huguenots tried to establish a utopian colony, is fascinating -- and, in its failure (they forgot to bring any women) and the role they played in wiping out the solitaire (the fascinating local dodo-type), it is of some relevance. But, as throughout the book, there's too little bird and too much else.
       The book does pick up again towards the end, with an interesting chapter on "The Rise of Dodology". Soon after its extinction most of the traces of the bird were lost and forgotten. As Pinto-Correia notes, even the one preserved stuffed specimen, owned by the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, was summarily thrown out in 1755. (Typical of the vague presentation of much of the book Pinto-Correia writes: "In 1755 (...) the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford threw out the last embalmed dodo from the collection and with it, the last physical remains of the animal." A few pages later, however, she admits: "Fortunately, someone removed the head and the foot of the specimen and saved them" -- and then even provides an illustration showing both.)
       The story of how the dodo came to be seen as a significant scientific object (specifically in the debate about evolution) is an interesting one, and better told.
       Pinto-Correia closes with a chapter on the dodo as symbol -- used by everyone from Lewis Carroll to E.F.Benson. As throughout, she's come across interesting facts and titbits, and some fun quotes and examples, but doesn't manage to do more than string them together (rather than weaving them into an engaging, convincing narrative).

       For the most part, Return of the Crazy Bird reads like an accumulation of facts and stories rather than a book. They're often fascinating stories, but neither these nor the facts are generally dealt with in anywhere near adequate detail. Often -- as with Rudolf II -- she gets carried away by some details that, while interesting, have little to do with the dodo (or at least aren't tied neatly to the dodo by her). The book might have gained if she had expanded on many of her details -- but given that she seems incapable of allowing a story to unfold it would probably just have been a bigger jumble.
       There are fascinating details and stories here, and both her style and presentation lend itself to piecemeal reading -- picking apart the text for the good stuff. But it's unfortunate that she couldn't take this wealth of material and shape something better out of it.

- Return to top of the page -


Return of the Crazy Bird: The dodo: Clara Pinto-Correia: Other books of interest under review:

- Return to top of the page -

About the Author:

       Portuguese author Clara Pinto-Correia has taught in the US and in Portugal.

- Return to top of the page -

© 2003-2010 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links