Melanie Challenger & David Quammen
Two extraordinary writers, bringing readers ‘news of the universe’ in kindred though distinctly different ways, give this virtual presentation and conversation - that should be something. Melanie Challenger has first become known in her British homeland as a poet, and then as one working on the place of the human in the larger world, especially as being a more appropriate, genuine part of this world. She does this most recently and most tellingly in her new book, How to Be Animal: A New History of What It Means to Be Human (Penguin). She does so this evening, paired with David Quammen, a writer who has been coming to Elliott Bay almost since the beginning of our hosting authors. We may be among the few places that first knew him as a fiction writer, with the 1987 publication of his book, Blood Line: Stories of Fathers and Sons from Graywolf Press. The science and nature writing since have abounded, books including Yellowstone: A Journey Through America’s Heart, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin, The Song of the Dodo, Natural Acts, Ebola, and many more. His 2012 book, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (W.W. Norton), has become his most timely, in light of what is upon us, worth the visit in reading, and in this evening’s conversation.
“In How to be Animal, Melanie Challenger offers a poetic and erudite meditation on the relationship of our species to the rest of the organic world, and especially to the species to which we are most closely related. Her compelling argument against human exceptionalism synthesizes the insights of scientists and philosophers from many times and places, and uses them, along with reflections on her own experiences, to analyze some of the most troublesome current political issues. She is particularly aware of the human desire for firm boundaries—between ourselves and other species, for example, or between our bodies and our minds–and she therefore stresses the elusiveness of such boundaries and the potentially devastating effects of our pursuit of them.” —Harriet Rivto.
“This is a frightening and fascinating masterpiece of science reporting that reads like a detective story. David Quammen takes us on a quest to understand AIDS, Ebola, and other diseases that share a frightening commonality: they all jumped from wild animals to humans. By explaining this growing trend, Quammen not only provides a warning about the diseases we will face in the future, he also causes us to reflect on our place as humans in the earth’s ecosystem.” - Walter Isaacson.