The Galapagos

A Natural History


By Henry Nicholls

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Charles Darwin called it “a little world within itself.” Sailors referred to it as “Las Encantadas”- the enchanted islands. Lying in the eastern Pacific Ocean, straddling the equator off the west coast of South America, the Galágos is the most pristine archipelago to be found anywhere in the tropics. It is so remote, so untouched, that the act of wading ashore can make you feel like you are the first to do so.

Yet the Galágos is far more than a wild paradise on earth-it is one of the most important sites in the history of science. Home to over 4,000 species native to its shores, around 40 percent of them endemic, the islands have often been called a “laboratory of evolution.” The finches collected on the Galágos inspired Darwin’s revolutionary theory of natural selection.

In The Galágos, science writer Henry Nicholls offers a lively natural and human history of the archipelago, charting its course from deserted wilderness to biological testing ground and global ecotourism hot spot. Describing the island chain’s fiery geological origins as well as our species’ long history of interaction with the islands, he draws vivid portraits of the life forms found in the Galágos, capturing its awe-inspiring landscapes, understated flora, and stunning wildlife. Nicholls also reveals the immense challenges facing the islands, which must continually balance conservation and ever encroaching development.

Beautifully weaving together natural history, evolutionary theory, and his own experience on the islands, Nicholls shows that the story of the Galágos is not merely an isolated concern, but reflects the future of our species’ relationship with nature-and the fate of our planet.
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  • "Nicholls describes the natural life of the Galapagos with both knowledge and zest: its rocks, the ocean and the sea life that surround it.... The book is a fascinating portrait of the archipelago's natural and human history."
    Chicago Tribune
  • "The Galpagos: A Natural History is a book that should be on the reading table of all those interested not only in the natural history of the Galapagos Islands but by everyone who wishes to expand their perspective upon the subject of natural history itself--as well as, of course--those who simply enjoy reading interesting and well-written books in general."
    The Well-Read Naturalist
  • "Anyone planning or just dreaming of a trip to the famed islands will get a preview of their natural history in this engaging volume."
    Science News
  • "A fascinating overview of the natural and human history of this remarkable archipelago, from prehistoric times to the present."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "Henry Nicholls has turned his most observant eye on the remarkable, but less often described human history of Galapagos.... In his lively prose, Henry lauds the unsung scientists and conservation managers who work doggedly and successfully on persistent wildlife management challenges wrought by human accident or design. His persistent focus on stewardship--man's absolute responsibility to nature--is refreshing and important in the world of natural history literature. A thoughtfully executed and excellent read."
    Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy
  • "If you read one book about the Galapagos, make sure it is this. Thoroughly researched, highly informative, lively, and enjoyable, each page is a real pleasure to read. Whether a first time visitor or an old Galapagos 'hand,' Henry Nicholls's The Galapagos should accompany you on any physical or virtual trip to these Enchanted Islands."
    Ian Dunn, chief executive officer, Galapagos Conservation Trust
  • "The Galapagos is an engaging, informative introduction to the natural history of the archipelago.... A surprising amount of information is packed into this concise and entertaining overview. An inspiring pre-travel read for anyone considering a visit to 'Darwin's Islands'."
    K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes, authors of Darwin in Galapagos
  • "In his new natural history, Henry Nicholls transforms the Galapagos archipelago from perennial example to subject. Chapters devoted to geology, plants, animals, and insects finally provide a landscape framework for some of biology's most famous stories--from Darwin's finches to the giant tortoises that give the islands their name. Nicholls also includes a welcome and thoughtful discussion of the archipelago's most recent and transformative arrivals, its people."
    Thor Hanson, author of Seeds and Feathers
  • "Mr. Nicholls, entertaining in his own light, keeps things lively with lots of human observations.... As protective as Mr. Nicholls is of these strange islands, the reader gets the distinct feeling that he wants you to see for yourself these animals that 'show no prejudice, no fear'--an experience that will do no less than transform the way we think about our place in the world."
    New York Times
  • "In this natural and human history of Darwin's living laboratory, Henry Nicholls surfs from geology, oceanography and marine biology to resident land species, not least the burgeoning population of Homo sapiens. Throughout, he intertwines key accounts such as Darwin's inspired musings on geological uplift and the piscine encounters of pioneer diver William Beebe. One for the scientific islomane with a sense of the bigger picture."
  • "[A]n accessible introduction to the islands' natural history.... [Nicholls'] writing is always skillfully rendered and his enthusiasm for the islands, where he has spent much time, is palpable..... A pleasant, anecdotal work, it will delight armchair travelers and tourists hoping to maximize their own trips to these magical islands."
    Library Journal
  • "I have been to the Galapagos five times, including an extended private expedition retracing Darwin's footsteps in these magnificent islands that so inspired his insights into the evolutionary process. I thought I knew everything about the islands until I read Henry Nicholls's The Galapagos, the best single-volume work I've found and the perfect guide for travelers. Every visitor to the islands should be given a copy of this marvelous natural history to read in order to fully appreciate the richness of one of the most important pieces of real estate on the planet. A captivating book."
    Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, and author of Why Darwin Matters
  • "[A] thoroughly engaging and deftly distilled primer on the Galapagos Islands. From rocks to ocean, seabirds, plants, invertebrates, land birds, reptiles, and humans.... [Nicholls] weaves the history of discovery in Galapagos with eyewitness reports, the ecology and evolution of the archipelago and conservation challenges--all in just 150 pages.... For a succinct overview of the islands, their history, nature and import, the book is admirable."
    Longitude Books blog
  • "In an enticingly structured, thoroughly enjoyable, rolling narrative, [Nicholls] discusses the islands' volcanic origins, native flora and fauna, and human explorers and residents. He also describes with firsthand excitement and surprising detail what it's like to be in the presence of the islands' remarkably tame wildlife, from the playful red-footed boobies to Pacific green turtles and the enormous tortoises for which the archipelago is named and which were slaughtered to the brink of extinction.... There is no question, as Nicholls eloquently reveals, that we all have a stake in protecting the Galapagos."
  • "In choosing his topics, Nicholls does what he calls 'some cherry-picking' and the result is both entertaining and enlightening.... Nicholls navigates [the] complex issues [related to the human population] with care, sensitivity and honesty."
    Galapagos Digital
  • "Tourists should read this book before they visit the Galapagos. In a relaxed and conversational style, Henry Nicholls introduces many of the animals and plants that live there, explains why so many are strange and unusual, and shows how natural history has been first shaped by geological history and then influenced by human history. The book is an inspiring call to visit the islands, to experience the animals and plants in the sea and on land, and to join in conserving them."
    Peter Grant, professor emeritus, Princeton University, and coauthor of 40 Years of Evolution: Darwin's Finches on Daphne Major Island
  • "Nicholls's book is filled with fascinating natural history tales, from volcanically-heated seas melting the resin that holds a ship together to encounters with foot-long centipedes, and also includes a sobering, but ultimately hopeful account of the efforts to conserve the archipelago's flora and fauna. It's a book you'd want to read on a plane flight to the Galápagos. It's also a book that will make you want to book that flight."
    Alan de Queiroz, author of The Monkey's Voyage
  • "This is the perfect book to take with you if you are planning a trip to the Galapagos. Even if you are not, this is an enchanting and enlightening account of the most scientifically significant islands in the world."
    Tim Birkhead, author of Bird Sense
  • "Henry Nicholls has added an informative, fun, and up-to-date read to the Galapagos literature. By sprinkling his discussion of the geology, biology, and history of the islands with quotes from historical figures, including Darwin, the Bishop of Panama, Herman Melville, and many others, he takes the reader on a unique journey of discovery of the wonders of Galapagos. He merges historical information with up-to-date science and conservation, then brings the reader back to the sites and species they will see when visiting the islands. Most importantly, he discusses why Galapagos matters and the challenge to all of us to ensure its long-term protection."
    Linda J. Cayot, science advisor, Galapagos Conservancy

On Sale
Apr 8, 2014
Page Count
224 pages
Basic Books

Henry Nicholls

About the Author

Henry Nicholls is a renowned science writer and author of three books. He has also written for Nature, New Scientist, and hosts the Guardian‘s “Animal Magic” blog. Nicholls lives in London.

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