Review: Last Chance to See

Last Chance to See
Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Douglas Adams proved with this book that he wasn’t just a brilliant science fiction writer with a virtually unrivalled wit and sense of humour; it went to show that he had an admirable, enviable even, sense of social and ecological responsibility, taking him, as far as I am concerned, from the “brilliant writer” tier, to the “paradigm of humanity” club, reserved only for those people (and there’s not a lot of them around) that can work as sources of true inspiration for me. Last Chance To See is a manifesto on almost everything that’s wrong or imbalanced in the world today — and it was written more than 20 years ago. The Douglas Adams impish vibe that is so cherished by many serves as little more than a tasty side dish for this book. It is that good.

My edition has a foreword by Richard Dawkins who has a similar opinion of the late man as I do. While I do not really agree with his flagship Atheist views (even if I would much sooner classify myself as an Atheist than a “Creationist”), he does do a magnificent job of summing up the point of this book in just a few words:

Of the endangered animals that Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine set out to see, one seems to have gone for good during the intervening two decades. We have noew lost our last chance to see the Yangtze river dolhpin. Or hear it, which is more to the point, for the river dolphin lived ina world where seeing was pretty much out of the question anyway: a murky, muddy river in which sonar came splendidly into its own — until the arrival of massive noise pollution by boat engines.
The loss of the river dolphin is a tragedy, and some of the other wonderful characters in this book cannot be far behind. In his Last Word, Mark Carwardine reflects on why we should care when species, or shole major groups of animals and plants go extinct. He deals with the usual arguments:

Every animal and plant is an integral part of its environment: even Komodo dragons have a major role to play in maintaining the ecological stability of their delicate island homes. If they disappear, so could many other species. And consercation is very much in time with our own survival. Animals and plants provide us with life-saving drugs and food, they pollinate crops and provide important ingredients for many industrial processes.

Yes, yes, he would say that kind of thing, it’s expected of him. But the pity that we need to justify conservation on such human-centered, utilitarian grounds. To borrow an analogy I once used in a different context, it’s a bit like justifying music on the grounds that it’s good exercise for the violinist’s right arm. Surely the real justification for saving these magnificent creatures is the one with which Mark rounds off the book, and which he obviously prefers:

There is one last reason for caring, and I believe that no other is necessary. It is certainly the reason why so many people have devoted their lives to protecting the likes of rhinos, parakeets, kakapos and dolphins. And it is simply this: the world would be a poorer, darker, lonelier place without them.


He [Douglas Adams] saw with his own eyes how quickly such painstaking edifices of evolutionary artifice can be torn down and tossed to oblivion. He tried to do something about it. So should we, if only to honour the memory of this unrepeatable specimen of Homo Sapiens. For once, the specific name is well deserved.

My respect also goes to Mark Carwardine, who has continued to bring the word out all these years, as well as to all the people all over the world, described in the book or not, that have devoted their lives to noble and moving ideals.

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