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In the fall of 2001, deep in the jungle of Burma, a team of scientists searches for rare snakes. They are led by Dr. Joe Slowinski, at 38 already one of the most brilliant biologists of our time. It is the most ambitious scientific expedition ever mounted into this remote region, brought to a dramatic halt by the bite of the many-banded krait, the deadliest serpent in Asia. Thus begins one of the most remarkable wilderness rescue attempts of modern times.
In The Snake Charmer, renowned journalist and author Jamie James captures the life and death of the fascinating and charismatic Joe Slowinski, a man whose career was fast and exciting, and whose tragic final expedition became a pulse-pounding struggle between man and nature.
Jamie James is the author of eight books, including The Music of the Spheres, Other Origins, and Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness. Since 1999 he has lived in Indonesia, where he writes for American publications including The New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Condé Nast Traveler, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
"James (The Music of the Spheres) tells the gritty and sad story of Joe Slowinski, a flamboyant and well-known herpetologist who died in Burma in 2001, aged 38, from the poisonous bite of a krait snake. Different snakesfrom the first black rat snake he encountered at age five to the cobras on which his professional success was builtanchor different phases in Slowinskis life, as James paints a portrait of a man filled with ambition, intelligence, passion and recklessness. The account of the expedition into an unexplored region of northern Burma is chillingit set a new standard of misery for scientific expeditions. After Slowinski was bitten by the krait, he was kept alive for 30 hours, through his companions heroic efforts, with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. But the snakes potent neurotoxin did its work, and Slowinski died deep in the jungle. In the end, this book is both a tribute to Slowinskis spirit and scientific accomplishments, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of an overly passionate ambition."
– Publishers Weekly (04/21/2008)
"Journalist James chronicles the life of Joseph Slowinski, one of the preeminent herpetologists in the world at the time of his death in 2001. James begins his story with the last, fatal encounter Slowinski had with a many-banded krait snake, the deadliest snake in Asia, while on an expedition in Burma, then takes us back to Slowinski's childhood to reveal how this brilliant scientist ended up dying in a hut in one of the most remote areas in the world. Herpetologists seem to have a natural recklessness and flamboyance about them (think of the late Steve Irwin), and Slowinski exhibited these traits in abundance throughout his life. However, instead of using his skill and daring for personal fame, Slowinski used it in pursuit of knowledge. Both a biography of a flawed but dedicated scientist seeking to understand the natural world and a dramatic adventure/travel tale, this account gives the reader a fascinating look at the incredible hardships and dangers of field expeditions to impossibly remote places (using mouth-to-mouth respiration, Slowinski's colleagues kept him alive for 30 hours for a rescue that never came)."
– Library Journal (06/15/2008)
"Like the more famous wildlife adventurer Steve Irwin, biologist Joe Slowinski, an expert in snakes, died as a result of his professional passion. On a 2001 expedition into the Burmese jungle to locate rare snakes, Slowinski was bitten by a many-banded krait, a reptile with a paralyzing neurotoxin venom that spells near-certain death for the victim. This book, which falls firmly into the same true-life tragedy genre as Into the Wild or Into Thin Air (also about people who died doing the thing they loved), tells us about Slowinski's life and career and the frantic efforts, after he was bitten, to keep him breathing until he could be rescued. At the end, we feel as though we knew Slowinski, that we understand what made him tick. Its a dramatic and moving story, told by an author who clearly understands that his subject is not simply about a mans cruel and ironic death but also about his life, his spirit, and his dreams."
– Booklist (07/01/2008)