A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: The Life of William Dampier by Diana and Michael Preston - review by Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor

The Botanical Buccaneer

A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: The Life of William Dampier

By

Doubleday 372pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

THE FORGOTTEN HERO of this book is not named William, but George. Diana and Michael Preston found him, necessarily alone, in a conservation park in the Galapagos Islands, munching solemnly on the shoots of a candelabra cactus. He appears for just three lines in the book, but his shadow falls over every paragraph: he is the one surviving member of his subspecies of the islands' most famous inhabitants. 'The fabled armies of tortoises so relished by Dampier are gone, plundered by successive generations of human predators.- . . .

A bleak and emblematic notice reads: "George, the last of his race".' A similar sign might have been placed over William Dampier (1 652-171 5). Pirates still survive, as many unfortunate sailors in the seas of the Far East and South America could testify; so do naturalists, beavering away in

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