Alan Burdick accomplishes that and a lot more in "Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion." It is a wonderful book for anyone interested...

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“Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion”

by Alan Burdick

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 336 pp., $25

What makes a great science writer? That’s easy. He’s someone who can make the brown tree snake relevant.

Alan Burdick accomplishes that and a lot more in “Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion.” It is a wonderful book for anyone interested in the least about the mysteries of ecological dynamism, our considerable role in shaping it and often lame attempts to control it.

By way of “Eden,” Burdick, a senior editor for Discover Magazine, takes readers to Hawaii, Guam, the shores of the Pacific coast and even NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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He writes with graceful simplicity, toggling between hardcore biological details to prose that soothes the layman’s ear. He achieves what is hardest about science writing: making the arcane understandable and engaging without dumbing down the message.

While he strays on a tangent or two in the 336-page book, he also shows flair for making the biologists in the field as real and breathing as the creatures they try to track and figure out.

Make no mistake, though. The creatures are the main characters. These invasive species travel in the wheel wells of airplanes and ship ballasts, borne on the back of misguided human intent. The invaders set up shop, like noisy new neighbors who eventually take over the neighborhood.

The brown tree snake, for instance, first arrived on the island of Guam just after World War II. Today, Guam has more brown tree snakes — snakes, period — per square mile than anywhere on Earth. The native bird population — breakfast, lunch and dinner for the snake — has shrunk from 11 species to two species in that time.

But “Eden” goes well beyond the snakes and numbers. And it goes far beyond islands. What are the ecological and financial costs? They are enormous but impossible to accurately quantify because nature, as hard as we try, resists that. What do we do about it? Can we do anything? What’s next?

We are at the center of it, exerting ourselves and tipping the balance by what some experts call the “homogenization” of ecology. “Now as never before,” Burdick writes, “exotic plants and organisms are traversing the globe, borne of the swelling tide of human traffic, to places where nature never intended to be.”

Richard Seven is a writer for the Seattle Times’ Pacific Northwest Magazine.