I read Last Chance to See almost 20 years ago. In Swedish. The translation had just arrived to the small library next to my school. As someone who just had gotten his first bite of the Hitchhiker's, I saw the name of Douglas Adams on the front page and grabbed it. I never regretted that. In fact I think it is some of the best I ever read by Adams. Maybe just because it isn't as well known.
Yesterday I finished it again. (This time in English.) Passing through London a month ago I was overjoyed to see it back in print. (I have been keeping my eye out for a copy for some years.) I can say it is still as good - no even better - as I now read it in original language.
The book is about endangered species. In the late 1980s Douglas Adams and co-author Marc Carwardine made a handful of trips to places around the world to trying locate and report on the status of some of the most endangered and fantastic animals. From Komodo dragons to the now famous Kakapo 's of New Zealand. They also made a series of radio shows for BBC I believe, though I have still to listen to them.
Not only the animals, but also the trips themselves are described in Adams remarkable and witty style of writing. The book manages to capture the very unique thing about each species as well as the serious danger they are in; all while being extremely funny. I find my self in fact giggling when reading it; which in some cases, like on the bus, actually may be even more alarming to other people around me than laughing out loud. Not that the book did not make me laugh mind you. There was plenty of that as well.
In fact I remember that after reading Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy - and subsequently everything else that Adams had written - my own style of writing was very much influenced by that. I wanted to try to be just as funny, finding just that special absurd and special form of humor. If I ever was on the right track I am afraid I surely have lost it in the jungle of academic manuscript writing. Maybe I should go look for it again. I will be darned I think that academic writings could just use a little more Adams!
Anyway, the purpose of the book is clearly not only to entertain. It does point out some of the more alarming facts about the possible extinction of many unique species. The title is no joke either, when Adams and Carwardine went on their trips more than 20 years ago there were just a handful individuals of each species left. Since then at least one, the Baiji - Yangtze river dolphin, has gone extinct.
When I read the book the first time it opened my eyes to the problems of extinction and conservation beyond pandas and blue whales. Last chance to see was well worth re-reading now 20 years later. It is still as important as ever. Although I believe the problems are more widely know now. It may be said that Last chance is not thorough in some way or other, maybe not covering all endangered species (unfortunately next to impossible). It doesn't matter because it is so very well written. Both serious and extremely witty. A disarming, yet serious introduction to an important subject. I can only recommend it!
I guess the reprint due, at least partially to the 20 year anniversary of the book, but also to the new BBC television series. Here Carwardine in the company of Stephen Fry try to find out what happened to the species in the original book. This TV series is really worth to watch as well if you have the chance. Carwardine is very knowledgeable, and Fry is as charming as always. Brilliant in fact!
But as always: read the book first!