The Rarest of the Rare

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Diane Ackerman has a gift for describing natural phenomena in a manner, at once direct and lyrical, that allows readers to participate with her in her adventures in spheres both familiar and strange. In THE RAREST OF THE RARE, her focus shifts from the exotic—short-tailed albatrosses, golden lion tamarinds—to the well-known—monarch butterflies, fireflies—but in each instance, her intent is to bring attention to bear on the need to preserve biodiversity. Far from being didactic, the book reads almost like a story cycle in which each creature’s destiny is linked to the others’.

Although this book is not a journal, either, it does include a great deal of personal information. Ackerman not only writes about the heroic efforts of Japanese ornithologist Hiroshi Hasegawa to preserve the only remaining breeding grounds of the short-tailed albatross but also details her own exploits on the deserted volcanic island where the birds have made their last stand. When she describes a climbing accident she suffers in her attempt to get close to the albatrosses, readers share not only her pain but also her sentiments: “A great day, despite everything . . . . Who would drink from a cup when they can drink from the source?”

This, indeed, is the burden of THE RAREST OF THE RARE: These animals enrich our lives, and saving them is worth the effort, no matter how strenuous. It is part of Ackerman’s mission to act as a surrogate, to go out to meet these creatures in their own territory and make them come alive for readers. As she ably demonstrates in this book and others she has written, we humans have much in common with other creatures, even the lowly but highly evolved ornate moth—in large part because we share the same world.