Moa: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of a Giant Bird

Moa: The Dramatic Story of the Discovery of a Giant Bird by Richard Wolfe was a disappointingly s-l-o-w read. At a mere 249 pages, I finished it after nine days. The story of the discovery of moa bones in early nineteenth-century New Zealand was unfortunately boring and not at all interesting to a bird-lover like me. Moa, much to my surprise, hardly talked about the extinct largest bird that ever lived, and spent far more of its space devoted to early New Zealand European immigrant history and to the leading scientists who first examined moa bones. While this is no doubt important in understanding the moa from its fossil discovery to the scientific puzzle whether or not it was still extant, by rarely mentioning the actual subject of discussion, the moa was reduced to a mere footnote in its own historical record. Wolfe spent a few pages in a couple of the thirteen chapters talking about the moa’s anatomy and its eating habits. I drank it all in, expressing relief that finally the author was talking about the bird, but then after a few pages he’d go back to talking about the evolution of the modern museum and various other papers on natural history the moa scientists had written. I would not recommend this book if one wanted to learn about the moa. For those interested in the Maori colonization of New Zealand, the European settlement in the early nineteenth century, and the effect that Darwin’s new theory of evolution had on science, this book is ideal. It is not enlightening when describing the moa, the largest bird that ever lived on this planet.         

A couple trivial tidbits: I found it amusing that almost every scientist or explorer profiled in Moa was named William. In one paragraph Wolfe introduced three such people: 

“If William Williams had already encountered one of science’s more colourful characters in the form of William Buckland, both he and William Colenso also met one who would become its most notable.” 

It became downright comical whenever a new person was introduced, be he a missionary or a professor. They were all named William! 

In the library’s catalogue where I work, Moa is alphabetically immediately before one other book that I have read this year: Moab is My Washpot. You’d swear I was reading the books in the Mississauga Library System’s catalogue in alphabetical order.

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