Cover: A Desert Calling: Life in a Forbidding Landscape, from Harvard University PressCover: A Desert Calling in HARDCOVER

A Desert Calling

Life in a Forbidding Landscape

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$41.00 • £35.95 • €37.95

ISBN 9780674007475

Publication Date: 05/14/2002


336 pages

62 halftones, 4 maps, 1 table


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Michael Mares has experienced the good and bad points of deserts more than most, having spent several decades engaged in field biology in deserts all over the world… This scientific work forms the backbone of his new book and makes a fascinating story in its own right. But what makes this autobiographical volume particularly engaging is its first-hand account of what it is actually like to work as a field biologist… A Desert Calling is a thoroughly good read for armchair biologists, but it can be especially recommended for anyone planning to do fieldwork. Read it and you will set off with your eyes open.—John A. Lee, Biologist

The word desert, from the Latin deserare (‘abandoned’), evokes a hot, dry wasteland. This view could not be further from the truth, as field biologist Mares shows in this marvelous examination of the lives of desert animals. Drawing on more than 30 years of studying the less charismatic animals of the deserts—the rodents, bats, and other small mammals—the author writes of his search for insights into how these animals adapt to the harsh desert environment.—Nancy Bent, Booklist

U.S. zoologist and curator Michael Mares traveled to deserts in Argentina, Iran, Egypt and the U.S. Southwest to examine in minute detail the surprisingly lush life of these harsh and hostile habitats. He tells of rich and complex systems of small, tenacious animals—which in many cases he was the first scientist to observe and record—and discusses the remarkable behavioral, physiological and ecological adaptations that have allowed these little-known species of rodents, bats and other small mammals to survive and even thrive in landscapes most of us would consider barren wasteland.The Globe and Mail

It is a testament to [Mares’s] love of biology and his abilities as a writer that he is able to convey the excitement that accompanies the discovery of a new species after surviving the numerous hardships of extended fieldwork… Illustrated with numerous photos and maps, this unique book also includes a thorough bibliography and should appeal to both lay readers and scholars.—Tim Markus, Library Journal

Mares [is] a world authority on desert mammals… Much of A Desert Calling is devoted to the joys and tribulations of fieldwork in environments unfriendly, both in climate and politics. But Mares includes many pointed reminders, to general readers and fellow scientists, about the importance of deserts, which are richer in mammal species, at least, than the lush tropical rainforests that dominate the discussions of how to preserve biodiversity.—Jonathan Beard, New Scientist

Most people think of deserts as hot, dry and barren wastelands. However, this new book, which centers on Michael Mares’s long career as a biologist in remote deserts, reveals them to be teeming with life… This book offers plenty of adventure—from Mares barely finding his way out of a deep cave while looking for bats in Mexico, to almost being struck by falling 100-foot trees in Costa Rica, to wild jeep-riding in an Iranian desert, to being lost in Argentina’s thorn desert, to attacks by ‘kissing bugs’… From continual denial that he worked for the CIA while in Iran to the discovery of a new species of mouse in Argentina, the book is loaded with fascinating stories well off the tourist track.—Lynn Arave, The Salt Lake City Desert News

Michael Mares has been looking at deserts, and seeing more than most. Sometimes, in fact, [he sees] what no one has seen before… He allows the marvels of nature and evolution to carry [his] narrative. But it’s also his story, an autobiography of sorts about the hardships and thrills of field work. This is smart reading for those who dream of doing science in the field.—Scott LaFee, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Mares…disputes the common belief that desert regions are inhospitable to life. Over the past 30 years, Mares has lived in the deserts of Argentina, Iran, Egypt, and the United States and has studied small mammals that live and thrive there. In A Desert Calling, he paints amazing portraits of the ways rodents and other creatures—some unknown to scientists until Mares found them—adapt to this hot, dry terrain… Mares makes his case for fieldwork over lab study and encourages his peers to become ‘foot soldiers of natural history.’ Lively descriptions of his own experiences in the wild make the idea quite tempting.Science News

While Mares tells of the excitements and frustrations of fieldwork, he also provides much information about desert mammals, and their adaptations to life in an extreme and harsh environment, making the book a pleasant blend of diary and textbook… He describes his work as hard, dangerous but deeply rewarding, with the excitement of new discoveries and unknown places.—Yoram Yom-Tov, The Times Literary Supplement

Mares has spent 30 years studying desert mammals in Argentina, Iran, Egypt and the American Southwest. Along the way, he also collected stories that read like thoughtful adventures, and he gained an appreciation of how life on Earth has evolved to fit radically variable circumstances. Desert Calling is the autobiography of Mares’s own evolution as a naturalist woven into a lively tapestry that includes fascinating science and eloquent advocacy… Whether American deserts become off-road vehicle theme parks and radioactive dumps or are protected will depend on our point of view. We respect the integrity of harsh landscapes only when we recognize it. Mares opens the window for a clearer view.—Chip Ward, The Washington Post

Awards & Accolades

  • 2003 Oklahoma Book Award, Nonfiction Category, Oklahoma Center for the Book
  • 2002 ForeWord Book of the Year Award, Environment Category

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