The Galapagos by Henry Nicholls

Charles Darwin called it “a little world within itself.” Sailors referred to it as “Las Encantadas”– the enchanted islands. Lying in the eastern Pacific Ocean, straddling the equator off the west coast of South America, the Galapagos is the most pristine archipelago to be found anywhere in the tropics. It is so remote, so untouched, that the act of wading ashore can make you feel like you are the first to do so.

Yet the Galapagos is far more than a wild paradise on earth–it is one of the most important sites in the history of science. Home to over 4,000 species native to its shores, around 40 percent of them endemic, the islands have often been called a “laboratory of evolution.” The finches collected on the Galapagos inspired Darwin’s revolutionary theory of natural selection.

The Galapagos is a lively natural and human history of the archipelago, one that charts its course from deserted wilderness to biological testing ground and global ecotourism hot spot. The book describes the island chain’s fiery geological origins as well as our species’ long history of interaction with the islands and draws vivid portraits of the life forms found in the Galapagos, capturing its awe-inspiring landscapes, understated flora, and stunning wildlife. The story of the Galapagos is not merely an isolated concern, but reflects the future of our species’ relationship with nature–and the fate of our planet.

Nicholls’s book is filled with fascinating natural history tales, from volcanically-heated seas melting the resin that holds a ship together to encounters with foot-long centipedes, and also includes a sobering, but ultimately hopeful account of the efforts to conserve the archipelago’s flora and fauna. It’s a book you’d want to read on a plane flight to the Galápagos. It’s also a book that will make you want to book that flight.

Alan de Queiroz, author of The Monkey’s Voyage

The Galapagos: A Natural History is a book that should be on the reading table of all those interested not only in the natural history of the Galapagos Islands but by everyone who wishes to expand their perspective upon the subject of natural history itself–as well as, of course–those who simply enjoy reading interesting and well-written books in general.

The Well-Read Naturalist

[A] thoroughly engaging and deftly distilled primer on the Galapagos Islands. From rocks to ocean, seabirds, plants, invertebrates, land birds, reptiles, and humans…. [Nicholls] weaves the history of discovery in Galapagos with eyewitness reports, the ecology and evolution of the archipelago and conservation challenges–all in just 150 pages…. For a succinct overview of the islands, their history, nature and import, the book is admirable.

Longitude Books blog

[A]n accessible introduction to the islands’ natural history…. [Nicholls’] writing is always skillfully rendered and his enthusiasm for the islands, where he has spent much time, is palpable….. A pleasant, anecdotal work, it will delight armchair travelers and tourists hoping to maximize their own trips to these magical islands.

Library Journal

A fascinating overview of the natural and human history of this remarkable archipelago, from prehistoric times to the present.

Kirkus Reviews

Anyone planning or just dreaming of a trip to the famed islands will get a preview of their natural history in this engaging volume.

Science News

Henry Nicholls has added an informative, fun, and up-to-date read to the Galapagos literature. By sprinkling his discussion of the geology, biology, and history of the islands with quotes from historical figures, including Darwin, the Bishop of Panama, Herman Melville, and many others, he takes the reader on a unique journey of discovery of the wonders of Galapagos. He merges historical information with up-to-date science and conservation, then brings the reader back to the sites and species they will see when visiting the islands. Most importantly, he discusses why Galapagos matters and the challenge to all of us to ensure its long-term protection.

Linda J. Cayot, Galapagos Conservancy

Henry Nicholls has turned his most observant eye on the remarkable, but less often described human history of Galapagos…. In his lively prose, Henry lauds the unsung scientists and conservation managers who work doggedly and successfully on persistent wildlife management challenges wrought by human accident or design. His persistent focus on stewardship–man’s absolute responsibility to nature–is refreshing and important in the world of natural history literature. A thoughtfully executed and excellent read.

Johannah Barry, president of the Galapagos Conservancy

I have been to the Galapagos five times, including an extended private expedition retracing Darwin’s footsteps in these magnificent islands that so inspired his insights into the evolutionary process. I thought I knew everything about the islands until I read Henry Nicholls’s The Galapagos, the best single-volume work I’ve found and the perfect guide for travelers. Every visitor to the islands should be given a copy of this marvelous natural history to read in order to fully appreciate the richness of one of the most important pieces of real estate on the planet. A captivating book.

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of Why Darwin Matters

If you read one book about the Galapagos, make sure it is this. Thoroughly researched, highly informative, lively, and enjoyable, each page is a real pleasure to read. Whether a first time visitor or an old Galapagos ‘hand, ‘ Henry Nicholls’s The Galapagos should accompany you on any physical or virtual trip to these Enchanted Islands.

Ian Dunn, chief executive officer, Galapagos Conservation Trust