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The Curse of the Labrador Duck: My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction

by Glen Chilton

Make no mistake: this book’s author is also its subject. Dr. Glen Chilton, an emeritus professor at Calgary’s St. Mary’s College who now lives in Australia, admits early on that he’s always been a truly obsessive type, and he spends the entirety of The Curse of the Labrador Duck’s almost 400 pages proving it.

There’s also material about the bird that gives the book its title – a species that has been extinct for more than 100 years, with only 55 stuffed specimens known to exist in private collections and museums. But Chilton’s account of his journey to find every one of those birds is, in fact, all about him: his impressions of the people he meets, his observations about the places he visits, and his own highly personalized take on what happened to a bird that was once easy to spot all over North America.

Luckily, Chilton knows how to spin an anecdote well enough that he never becomes a bore. And he weaves sufficient history and science into his narrative to give his tales a solid dose of credibility. As you make your way through pages and pages of conversations the author had with this or that bird buff, or minutely detailed stories about the trips he embarked on (right down to train departure times!), you’re at least pretty sure you’re learning enough about the Labrador Duck’s own journey into extinction to make it all worthwhile.

Readers willing to spend time in the company of an eccentric and highly motivated spinner of yarns will enjoy this book. Just bear in mind that this is in no way a completely objective, rational account of the extinction of a species.