In 1928 a young man named Ernst Mayr performed the first survey of the birds of the Cyclops Mountains, a forbidding region of New Guinea. The 23-year-old got malaria. He got dengue. He got dysentery. He experienced a trip down a waterfall. He was said to have been killed by natives, but the reports of his death were exaggerated. (The Twainian expression usually describes a death report as "greatly exaggerated," but Mayr came close enough to dying to warrant the deletion of the qualifier.)
A mere 73 years later Mayr, who went on to become the great evolutionary biologist of the 20th century (and the 21st so far), has a new book out. The now 97-year-old Mayr found time amid the organizing of his lifetime achievement awards to write What Evolution Is, published in October by Basic Books.
This article was originally published with the title The Importance of Being Ernst.