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. Notebooks from New Guinea is illustrated with beautiful drawings by a self-taught Papuan artist, Benson Avea Bego, who lives in a remote village.
By Way of Introduction: How I got to Papua New Guinea...and what came next
Island of a thousand tongues and a wild, wild landscape
Don't go talking to the neighbours!
Tok Pisin, or lingua franca the Papuan way
The magic number of 500
The rise of folklore
New Year's Eve among the natives
Malaria intermezzo: Mabura Hill, 1997
Buy the Book of Books, we have no other
The age of darkness
The character of a New Guinea town
Wishing you a pleasant flight with Adventist Aviators!
The sight of a fleeting landscape
[plus dozens of additional notes arranged in 4 additional parts:]
Old and new customs of a tribal society
Foreigners and their odd ideas
How to do science in Papua New Guinea
In conclusion: Travel report
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.
"In contemplating a single word to use in describing this work, this reviewer had come up with "amazing," only to discover on the book's back cover that eminent biologist E. O. Wilson had used the same adjective. Highly recommended."
"When not busy with his researches (and these are recounted with a winningly light touch), Novotny has found time to explore this unique culture. The results are spectacular: an exercise in witty and whimsical amateur anthropology that puts the professionals to shame."
"What is striking about Notebooks is how there is a perfect balance between the academic and the literary. This is a very intriguing book with thoughtful and intelligent analysis and conclusions, and yet one does not feel as though they are reading a stuffy academic publication. Czech author Vojtech Novotny (translated by David Short) has provided a very interesting tale of travels, broadening horizons and insight unto the human condition."