346 pages, 16 plates with 24 colour photos; 28 b/w illustrations
Emerald Labyrinth is a scientist and adventurer's chronicle of years exploring the rainforests of sub-Saharan Africa. The richly varied habitats of the Democratic Republic of the Congo offer a wealth of animal, plant, chemical, and medical discoveries. But the country also has a deeply troubled colonial past and a complicated political present. Author Eli Greenbaum is a leading expert in sub-Saharan herpetology – snakes, lizards, and frogs – who brings a sense of wonder to the question of how science works in the twenty-first century. Along the way he comes face to face with spitting cobras, silverback mountain gorillas, wild elephants, and the teenaged armies of AK-47-toting fighters engaged in the continent's longest-running war.
As a bellwether of the climate and biodiversity crises now facing the planet, the Congo holds the key to our planet's future. Writing in the tradition of books like The Lost City of Z, Greenbaum seeks out the creatures struggling to survive in a war-torn, environmentally threatened country. Emerald Labyrinth is an extraordinary book about the enormous challenges and hard-won satisfactions of doing science in one of the least known, least hospitable places on earth.
"In this riveting scientific travelogue [...] Greenbaum, a professor of evolutionary genetics, recounts arduous journeys throughout the Democratic Republic of the Congo, illuminating in fluent detail its bloody history, precarious present, spectacular landscapes, and gloriously varied, now rapidly disappearing, biological abundance."
– Booklist (starred review)
"The narrative is smooth and engaging, effectively showing the natural wonder of the Congo – and its fragility. Greenbaum's enthusiasm for his work shines through, as does his compelling message about the future of our planet."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Greenbaum [...] combines scientific endeavor,environmentalism, and Congolese history as he shares his experiences exploring remarkable ecosystems in the midst of a civil war."
– Publishers Weekly
"Greenbaum's account of a 2008 expedition with Congolese colleague Chifundera Kusamba and a crack team of local rangers is much more than derring-do among prodigious natural riches: it is also a meditation on how colonial power seeds violence. A valuable record of conflict and conservation at a time of climate change and population pressures."
– Nature, International Journal of Science
"Emerald Labyrinth packs in more about the country's biological, cultural, and political history than is likely to be found in any other single book. It should be required reading for all ecologists, missionaries, politicians, and decision-makers who journey to tropical Africa, especially the Congo."
"Meticulously researched, fast-paced and beautifully illustrated with lots of photographs, this book seamlessly blends scientific discovery, memoir and travelogue with the historical context of the DRC's almost legendary corruption. You may not be able to put down this inspirational page-turner until you've finished it."
"Delivers the goods [...] Greenbaum masterfully wraps each of his biological discoveries in rich tapestries, from Africa's history to its current quagmires of politics and corruption."
– Kurt Johnson, coauthor of Nabokov's Blues and Fine Lines
"Engrossing [...] Slipping unobtrusively between armed militias, avaricious bureaucrats, courageous conservationists, and tropical diseases, Greenbaum takes his readers with him to discover the depths of our ignorance of Congo's natural history, with erudite forays into the country's political and social history and its importance to the fate of the planet [...] His research is urgent."
– Ian Redmond, OBE, wildlife biologist and ambassador for the UN Convention on Migratory Species
"Thanks to scientists like Greenbaum, expeditions such as those described in this book offer reassurance that innovative research can proceed despite the many difficulties that get in the way."
– Jonathan Kingdon, University of Oxford
- List of Abbreviations
- A Note regarding Provinces
- No Joy in the Brilliance of Sunshine
- King Kong of Kahuzi Volcano
- The Wrong Place at the Wrong Time
- The Rats of Miki
- A Vampire in Virunga
- Wandege’s Eye
- The Murderer of Mugege
- This Man Is Not Right in the Head
- Frogs in Elephant Footprints
- The Death of Asukulu
- Congolese Swahili Glossary
- How Can I Help?
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Eli Greenbaum is an associate professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Texas at El Paso, with a research focus on the herpetology of Central Africa. He has published over one hundred articles in refereed science journals, and his work has been covered in NBC News, National Geographic Daily News, Africa Geographic Magazine, and The Huffington Post. This is his first book.