Notebooks from New Guinea: Reflections on life, nature, and science from the depths of the rainforest

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OUP Oxford, May 14, 2009 - Science - 272 pages
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This is a unique and delightfully engaging account by a leading tropical biologist of doing science at one of the last wild frontiers in the world. Vojtech Novotny is a highly respected Czech scientist. His widely cited work, of profound importance to ecology and evolution, is not done, like much modern science, in a lab full of gleaming apparatus. Instead, he chose as his 'laboratory' the remotest parts of Papua New Guinea, where he has established a research station. Supported by a team of Papuans whom he has trained up so that they can combine their wide and intimate knowledge of the plants and animals of their tropical forest with the knowledge of modern science, Novotny studies the ecological interactions of butterflies and plants. Clearly this is no ordinary scientist. Combined with his intrepid courage (PNG is one of the most dangerous places on Earth, with a very high homicide rate), he is a shrewd observer of human nature. In the richly varied notes and reflections of this very individual volume are not only descriptions of natural history and scientific research in the rainforest, but accounts of the local peoples and their culture, the challenges of working across very different cultures, and amusing portraits of the antics of Western tourists, separated by a few 'intermezzi' - episodes when the author fought bouts of malaria. Novotny is that rare combination of excellent scientist and superb storyteller. The faithful translations by David Short bring these notes and reflections on science, nature, and human beings to a wide audience, without any loss to their richness, warmth, humility, and wisdom. The volume is illustrated with beautiful drawings by a self-taught Papuan artist, Benson Avea Bego, who lives in a remote village.
 

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Contents

By Way of Introduction
3
Island of a Thousand Tongues and a Wild Wild Landscape
11
Old and New Customs of a Tribal Society
73
How to Do Science in Papua New Guinea
161
Travel Report
241
About the author
248
About the illustrator
249
Index
251
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

Vojtech Novotny is a tropical biologist. He is Professor of Ecology at the University of South Bohemia and the Head of the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology at the Biology Center of the Czech Academy of Sciences in the Czech Republic. He is leading an international team of researchers studying relationships between plants and insects in tropical rainforests. This work has provided, among other results, the currently accepted estimate of the number of insects living on our planet. Novotny is directing the New Guinea Binatang Research Center, a research station in Papua New Guinea, recognized for its ecological research, which successfully unites western scientists and the tribal peoples of the New Guinea rainforests.

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