The best book I read this year,...

T. Coraghessan Boyle is the author of several books, including "The Tortilla Curtain" (Viking). He is finishing work on his next novel, "Riven Rock." He lives in Santa Barbara

The best book I read this year, hands down, was David Quammen's "The Song of the Dodo" (Scribner); it was also the most depressing. So depressing, in fact, that the author would have done us all a service if he's taped two cyanide tablets to the last page of every copy. What's it about? Island biogeography. That is, evolution as it is concentrated and accelerated in island populations, the depressing thesis being that we homo sapiens have chopped even the continents into islands, thus guaranteeing the extinction of most major animate life forms in the near future, as their breeding populations are being reduced below the level of viability.

If this all sounds rather drily theoretical, it is not. Quammen always fascinates the reader. My favorite bit concerns the redoubtable Komodo dragons of certain Indonesian islands and what they eat--and ate, historically. Smaller species tend toward gigantism on islands, larger ones toward dwarfism. And so, the Komodo, a giganticized moniter lizard, feeds on pigs and deer; however, the pigs and deer were introduced by man and the Komodo dragon antedates the arrival of man. What then did it originally eat? Dwarf elephants, of course, the last of which were polished off by our deer- and pig-toting ancestors. Sublime. Just sublime.

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