On the Backs of Tortoises can be tough reading, with very few answers for some very pressing questions about culture, politics, and blackberries (an invasive species whose presence on the island is a growing problem) ... But this book isn't meant to offer easy answers ... This book works...beginning with a gripping history and then delving deeper—the world of the Galapagos becomes more complicated as we go, until we understand the underpinnings of any decision (almond milk or otherwise). It's a book about the ways we need to understand how deeply everything is entangled, and just how far down it goes. The result is a well-researched and thought-provoking read—whether you're well-versed in the intricacies of conservation or have only just begun to long for a look at the tortoises yourself. On the Backs of Tortoises is a natural history that asks important questions, and challenges us to think about how best to answer them.
Like so many good environmental histories, Hennessy’s book advocates...for context and nuance—which the tortoises offer in spades. She is able to plumb historical complexities by drawing on archival sources, texts, and photographs as well as interviews with contemporary scientists, naturalists, and Galápagos residents ... it’s possible to show the giant Galápagos tortoises at every major point in Galápagos history—to consider the animals as caricatures or props for other sorts of histories. But On the Backs of Tortoises offers a much more carefully researched, nuanced, and crafted sort of environmental history. It reminds us that here, in the 21st-century Anthropocene, Galápagos tortoises are emblematic of how we think about and consume the world.
In this fresh, insightful look, geographer and environmental historian Hennessy tracks the central role the tortoises have played in the natural, social, and global history of the Galapagos ... With the tortoises as the focus, Hennessy’s melding of human and natural history makes for thought-provoking reading.