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Book Review – The Snake Charmer

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The Snake Charmer is one of two books I plucked from Dr. Al Mohler’s suggested reading list for dads. It is a book that is rather unlike any I’ve read before. It is a biographical account of the life of Joe Slowinski, one of the world’s great herpetologists. Slowinski dedicated his life to studying snakes and, in particular, poisonous snakes.

In 2001, Slowinski led an expedition of biologists and botanists as they traveled through the jungles of Burma. It was there that he was bitten by a many-banded krait, the most deadly snake in Asia and one of the most deadly snakes in the world. A world away from any kind of hospital or clinic, Slowinski knew that his chances of survival were slim. It was this quote, provided by Dr. Mohler, which gave me an interest in reading the book:

As his friends gathered around, Joe calmly explained what was happening to him. No one in the world knew more about the venom of Bungarus multicinctus than Joe Slowinski. He described the effects of a slowly deepening paralysis: The snake’s venom works on several different parts of the nervous system simultaneously, blocking the nerve impulses that transmit instructions to the muscles, including those required to maintain life. There will be no pain, he told them. “First my eyelids will drop; I won’t be able to hold them up.” Soon he would lose the ability to speak and move his limbs, he said. Within a few hours, his respiratory system would shut down: The paralyzed central nervous system would be unable to instruct the diaphragm to breathe, causing a swift death by asphyxiation…

As the morning wore on, Joe’s physical condition deteriorated precisely as he had predicted it would. In stark contrast to the hysteria that prevailed after Joe was bitten by the cobra when he was filming with the National Geographic team, the scene at the schoolhouse in Rat Baw was wonderfully calm, even solemn. Joe lay down on his sleeping bag in his tent, with Moe Flannery and Guin Wogan lying next to him to provide human warmth and comfort. The men quietly gathered nearby. Joe asked someone to find an Ace bandage he could wrap around his right forearm to slow the traffic of blood and lymph in his hand, though by now the toxin had passed throughout his body. There was nothing more to be done except wait and see how serious the bite was.

Written by Jamie James, The Snake Charmer is a good and interesting account of the life of this man. He is a man who is hard to like—he was brash and immature and obnoxious; he was committed to understanding nature through a Darwinian lens and had only venom for creationists. Yet he was a man who loved God’s creatures and who fought to understand and preserve them. Woven into the book are many interesting facts about some of God’s least-understand and most-feared creatures. This book is an easy read and a perfect selection for a warm summer day outdoors.


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