People who do a lot of field work end up with interesting stories to tell, especially if the fieldwork is diverse and the conditions are adverse. Often, the sort of thing people want to know about is very different from the repertoire of available stories, but as long as the expectations of the audience is not too rigid, experienced fieldworkers in the various sciences that do field work make the best cocktail party extras.

I never met Jon Kalb, but we have a lot of colleagues in common. I first heard of him as one of the scientists on the same expedition that found the famous fossil “Lucy” (and her various friends and families). The whole Ethiopian foray was interesting as stories go. Research in the Afar region as well as down in the Omo basis was linked to numerous interesting stories worthy of a great deal of lecture time in any reasonable course on human evolution, or several pages of descriptive prose in any book on human evolution. And this is entirely aside from the actual discovery of any actual fossils.

I recalled that Kalb was the guy who was accused of being a CIA agent and thus tossed out of the country (Ethiopia) after doing quite a bit of work there. The person who told me that also assured me that it was not true; he was not a CIA agent. But that particular story goes with a lesson: don’t ever let anyone think you are a CIA agent because they’ll toss you out of the damn country.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because Joh Kalb has written a book, perhaps I can fairly call it a memoir if that term has not been broken into a million little pieces by some other author, of his time in the field. The Ethiopian bit is part of the story, but only a small part, as Jon had done quite a bit of work both before and after. Much of the attraction of books on human evolution and other field sciences is the fieldwork stories, and that’s what Jon’s book is all about. There are stories from North America, South America, Africa, from the driest regions of the world to under the sea. The research is all over the map as Jon was himself, with human origins work being only part of it. (Jon is a geologist so he is not bounded by taxon!)

Hunting Tapir During the Great Flood and Other Tales of Exploration and High Adventure is a rollicking adventure very much worth the read.

Kalb is also the author of Adventures in the Bone Trade: The Race to Discover Human Ancestors in Ethiopia’s Afar Depression.

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