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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary

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From the Axolotl to the Zebrafish, our planet contains a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing that anything dreamt of in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the land, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizzareness of the many living forms we thought we knew and so From the Axolotl to the Zebrafish, our planet contains a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing that anything dreamt of in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the land, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizzareness of the many living forms we thought we knew and some we could never have contemplated, inviting us to better imagine the precarious world we inhabit. A witty, vivid blend of cutting edge natural history and meditative reflections, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is infectious and celebratory about the sheer ingenuity and variety of life.


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From the Axolotl to the Zebrafish, our planet contains a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing that anything dreamt of in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the land, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizzareness of the many living forms we thought we knew and so From the Axolotl to the Zebrafish, our planet contains a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing that anything dreamt of in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the land, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizzareness of the many living forms we thought we knew and some we could never have contemplated, inviting us to better imagine the precarious world we inhabit. A witty, vivid blend of cutting edge natural history and meditative reflections, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is infectious and celebratory about the sheer ingenuity and variety of life.

30 review for The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mir

    An aletheiagoria. Perhaps, contrary to Plato's allegory of the cave, we sometimes only see the real once we have seen it's shadow in art. (Also, Henderson has reminded me that I never got around to reading The Book of Imaginary Beings.) An aletheiagoria. Perhaps, contrary to Plato's allegory of the cave, we sometimes only see the real once we have seen it's shadow in art. (Also, Henderson has reminded me that I never got around to reading The Book of Imaginary Beings.)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    The waterbear or ‘moss piglet’…a thing that actually exists Taking his cue from medieval bestiaries, Caspar Henderson set out to write a modern compendium of beasts, and show, in the process, that truth is a lot weirder than fiction. Forget about your griffons and basilisks, and check out things like the waterbear pictured above (in extreme close-up; they're only about half a millimetre long), the rainbow-coloured spider known as a sparklemuffin, or the aptly named thorny devil. Thorny devils surv The waterbear or ‘moss piglet’…a thing that actually exists Taking his cue from medieval bestiaries, Caspar Henderson set out to write a modern compendium of beasts, and show, in the process, that truth is a lot weirder than fiction. Forget about your griffons and basilisks, and check out things like the waterbear pictured above (in extreme close-up; they're only about half a millimetre long), the rainbow-coloured spider known as a sparklemuffin, or the aptly named thorny devil. Thorny devils survive by drinking the dew that collects in their spikes As so often with books about wildlife, one comes away with the sense that nature has a sexual imagination to make the Marquis de Sade look like a guileless schoolgirl. Turbellarian flatworms, for instance, ‘which are hermaphrodites, engage in spectacular penis fencing, using two phalluses mounted on their chests as weapons with which they attempt to pierce and impregnate each other’. Like prep school. And don't get me started on dolphins. Dolphins are filthy. Dolphins court and make love the year round, and with lots of foreplay – they rub, caress, mouth and nuzzle each other's genitals. Both males and females have a genital slit, so penetration is possible in both sexes, and the penis, the tip of the nose (the beak), lower jaw, dorsal or pectoral fin, and tail fluke are all used. Female Spinner dolphins have been observed riding ‘tandem’ on each other's dorsal fin, the female beneath inserting her fin into the genital slit of the other and the two swimming together in this position. Spinner dolphins of both sexes sometimes engage in orgies of more than a dozen individuals, known as ‘wuzzles’. Now we know why the little fuckers are always grinning. Wuzzles! This sounds like something Berlusconi's PA would be asked to set up. The Venus girdle is a translucent, bioluminescent swimming ribbon A preponderance of the creatures highlighted in here are marine animals, just because the sea has so many creatures that seem completely bizarre to us, from entire separate phyla of existence. Still, anyone coming into this book for pure zoological detail might end up disappointed, since Henderson uses his biological sketches as jumping-off points to talk about a whole range of disparate subjects, from early photography to AI to the history of human flight. Some readers have found this frustrating, but – while it's true that he can't get into much of anything in detail – this is an essay technique that should be familiar to most users of Goodreads; there are some people on here, after all, who can write a whole disquisition on neoplatonism or the internal combustion engine while purporting to review The Girl on the Train. Amidst the animal facts, then, are comments like this: [A]s Umair Haque (2011) argues, there is a massive malfunctioning of the global economy, and at the root of the problem is ‘dumb growth’, which, ‘rather than reflecting enduring wealth creation, largely reflects the transfer of wealth: from the poor to the rich, the young to the old, tomorrow to today, and human beings to corporate persons.’ This may sound beside the point, but in fact it comes to feel like one of the guiding themes of the book. To address non-human animals at all is to address the ongoing ‘sixth extinction’, a grotesque inequality of power and influence to set alongside the economic inequalities listed above, and to which it has a more than incidental connection. This fact, and the human society and culture that has made it possible, are never far from Henderson's thoughts, and in the end to me this made his book stronger rather than weaker.

  3. 4 out of 5

    J.V. Seem

    I got this book for my birthday, having lusted after it since my sister-in-law got it for Christmas, but it wasn't exactly what I expected. Firstly, the title, Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary, is very misleading. It's not. It has chapter titles like "axolotl", "right whale" and "dolphin", but barely mentions the animals. They are instead used as a springboard for philosophical musings about global warming, technology and the future of humanity. One chapter is on photography, anoth I got this book for my birthday, having lusted after it since my sister-in-law got it for Christmas, but it wasn't exactly what I expected. Firstly, the title, Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary, is very misleading. It's not. It has chapter titles like "axolotl", "right whale" and "dolphin", but barely mentions the animals. They are instead used as a springboard for philosophical musings about global warming, technology and the future of humanity. One chapter is on photography, another on artificial intelligence, regardless of what the chapter titles are. Animal facts sadly only make up about 10% of each chapter. ...and it makes me angry. That's not to say that it doesn't cover a lot of interesting topics, but it's definitely *not* what it says on the tin. The honey badger may not care that its chapter holds very few honey badger facts, but I do, I wanted to learn about animals. However, if you enjoy casual philosophy and literary quotes, this is your go-to book. The layout, typography, design and illustrations happen to be excellent. In the end, there are some good musings in here, and a jokey way of writing, but I'm still in need of a book of obscure animal facts.

  4. 5 out of 5

    ☙ nemo ❧ (pagesandprozac)

    this is certainly an interesting and important book, a cabinet of faunal curiosities in the form of a book, and at the beginning i was certain i was going to give it five stars. but here's the thing: there is an animal (or very occasionally, two) for each letter of the alphabet. one would therefore expect each section to be very tightly focused on the animal in question. instead, each chapter was absolutely FULL of tangents which sometimes managed to loop back to the original material, and somet this is certainly an interesting and important book, a cabinet of faunal curiosities in the form of a book, and at the beginning i was certain i was going to give it five stars. but here's the thing: there is an animal (or very occasionally, two) for each letter of the alphabet. one would therefore expect each section to be very tightly focused on the animal in question. instead, each chapter was absolutely FULL of tangents which sometimes managed to loop back to the original material, and sometimes just appeared to be there for no apparent reason. this would not have been that much of a problem if it had only happened a couple of times, but it was in essentially every single chapter and i found myself being very frustrated by this indeed. there were also some slightly iffy scientific definitions and exclusions that weren't horrendous, per se, but i'm afraid that i'm a terrible nit-picker and so i couldn't help but get irritated at the fact that there is a few paragraphs or so related to game theory and evolution that somehow managed to avoid mentioning the tit-for-tat evolutionary strategy outlined in dawkins' the selfish gene, arguably one of the most important discoveries on the whole matter. other minor annoyances included saying that a microbe lyses when it's killed by a virus, which is true, but it's also true of every single other cell in the world, not just microbes; and also the description of a phenotype as "the ensemble of traits and characteristics of an organism", which sort of implies that every organism has only one phenotype that encompasses every single trait and characteristic of it, rather than one organism being made up of many phenotypes. and YES, i KNOW i'm nit-picking. i KNOW. i just can't help it. in conclusion, i would say this is worth reading. it showcases some fascinating animals and has some wonderful facts, but bear in mind my various criticisms. the whole tangent thing is probably a matter of taste; lots of people probably liked that.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hilary

    This fascinating book is a thing of beauty in itself, its design influenced by the exquisite medieval bestiaries with their vignettes of marvellous creatures, their rubrics and historiated capitals. The structure is based around essays on 27 living creatures that exist but seem to push at the boundaries of human imagination. These are prefaced by an introduction that is equally full of insight - I urge you not to skip it. The essays in the book can be dipped into - however, there is a strong thr This fascinating book is a thing of beauty in itself, its design influenced by the exquisite medieval bestiaries with their vignettes of marvellous creatures, their rubrics and historiated capitals. The structure is based around essays on 27 living creatures that exist but seem to push at the boundaries of human imagination. These are prefaced by an introduction that is equally full of insight - I urge you not to skip it. The essays in the book can be dipped into - however, there is a strong thread of interconnection binding them together, and some themes occur and recur in more than one. So this is a multidimensional book that can be read in a variety of ways. Interconnectedness is the strongest theme, as the author seeks to illustrate both the tenuous nature and the underlying strength of survival of life on earth. The point of focusing on 'barely imagined beings' is to remind us how far from omniscient we are about the creatures with whom we share the Earth, and how heedlessly we have have ignored warning signs of ecological disaster caused by our actions. Here is my full review on Vulpes Libris: http://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/201...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Nicky

    Caspar Henderson's 21st Century Bestiary is not an encyclopaedia, as some people might expect, but something more in the medieval tradition of bestiaries, mixing information with philosophical and moral comment. It's interesting, and Henderson's ideas are well expressed, and I imagine a full colour version of the book must be stunning (my own is the paperback, all in black and white, but I seem to recall seeing a colour edition). It's definitely not all that scientific, in places, relying on ane Caspar Henderson's 21st Century Bestiary is not an encyclopaedia, as some people might expect, but something more in the medieval tradition of bestiaries, mixing information with philosophical and moral comment. It's interesting, and Henderson's ideas are well expressed, and I imagine a full colour version of the book must be stunning (my own is the paperback, all in black and white, but I seem to recall seeing a colour edition). It's definitely not all that scientific, in places, relying on anecdote and going off on tangents into what an organism might have to teach us. One of Henderson's major concerns is the environment, and the preservation of Earth's current biodiversity, for which he makes a good case. Ultimately, if your interest is science, this will probably be unsatisfying: it's here to demonstrate some of the scope of biodiversity, not to explain it, or even to go very deeply into any one scientific principle (though it touches on plenty). I do wish it had been better edited -- the typos and such are extremely distracting. All in all, it isn't quite as good as I'd expected from the rave reviews and my quick glance over it in the shop, but it is interesting.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Steinberg

    If you find the prospect of encountering a Lucihormetica luckae (via SGU #411) scary but just a little awe-inspiring, you would find Caspar Henderson‘s The Book of Barely Imaginary Beings utterly rapturous. A thousand authors could probably recreate Henderson’s bestiary, itself a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges‘ Book of Imagined Beings, and put only a small dent in humanity’s ignorance of the worlds around them. It’s not a Disney experience. http://humesbastard.wordpress.com/201... If you find the prospect of encountering a Lucihormetica luckae (via SGU #411) scary but just a little awe-inspiring, you would find Caspar Henderson‘s The Book of Barely Imaginary Beings utterly rapturous. A thousand authors could probably recreate Henderson’s bestiary, itself a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges‘ Book of Imagined Beings, and put only a small dent in humanity’s ignorance of the worlds around them. It’s not a Disney experience. http://humesbastard.wordpress.com/201...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    This would have been far more interesting if there had been more about the animals as opposed to digression after digression showing me how well read and travelled the author was. Some of it is interesting and some of it is, oh no, here we go again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Margaryta

    I couldn't finish this book for one particular reason - I found it a bit too complicated for me. There is so much interesting things to read in it though, so many facts and perspectives and seeing them all tied back to the human condition and human nature was just fantastic to see. The introduction was already so strong and bang-on that I was really excited to read it. What stopped me, however, was the complexity. This book is primarily for people who are really interested in animals and have rea I couldn't finish this book for one particular reason - I found it a bit too complicated for me. There is so much interesting things to read in it though, so many facts and perspectives and seeing them all tied back to the human condition and human nature was just fantastic to see. The introduction was already so strong and bang-on that I was really excited to read it. What stopped me, however, was the complexity. This book is primarily for people who are really interested in animals and have read about the discoveries made by various biologists and zoologists and the theories and history revolving around the whole topic. Me, being a simple teenager who doesn't focus on those kinds of things, just couldn't keep up with the amount of information that was being laid out before me. This fact didn't stop me from enjoying what I DID read, because the half or so of the book that I got through was really interesting and had such a big punch of new and eye-opening facts and information that it really captured my interest. I'm sad that I can't finish this, but as it's sitting on my table for 6 weeks already and needs to be returned to the library I cannot finish it. I'll definitely consider picking this one up again though in several years, after which maybe I've learned a bit more to make me appreciate this book for the gem that it really is.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    We humans could perhaps be pardoned for our anthro-centric view of the world until the arrival of the Gutenberg press. After that, with the widespread dissemination of ideas pretty well taken care of, we have much less excuse. Then came the Internet, the Blue Planet, and a host of other modern wonders, and everyone has the option to know everything -- the limits of time and patience aside, of course. Thus it was with considerable surprise that I learned, by reading this book, that I only had the We humans could perhaps be pardoned for our anthro-centric view of the world until the arrival of the Gutenberg press. After that, with the widespread dissemination of ideas pretty well taken care of, we have much less excuse. Then came the Internet, the Blue Planet, and a host of other modern wonders, and everyone has the option to know everything -- the limits of time and patience aside, of course. Thus it was with considerable surprise that I learned, by reading this book, that I only had the barest beginning of an understanding of the weird and wonderful living things sequestered on this unremarkable planet located on a distant arm of a minor galaxy. Things that live in slime, that are smaller than the period at the end of this sentence, that change their sex at will, that live in vents, and can survive outer space -- the list goes on an on. Don't read this book if you need to hang onto the belief that people are special and the center of the universe. Do read it if you want to wander, with a wonderful writer, through a few of the incredible by-ways of life, and ponder the varieties of ways that chemicals can combine to produce wiggly things.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Baal Of

    This is a gorgeous book, and a joy to read, despite the dire message that is woven throughout that we have entered the Anthropocene and are rapidly destroying species and biospheres at an unprecedented rate. Henderson uses the various creatures of each chapter as a launching point to take free ranging discussions into a variety of topics centered around biology, evolution, conservation, pollution, technology, and biodiversity. The messages here are scary, and will not make those of certain polit This is a gorgeous book, and a joy to read, despite the dire message that is woven throughout that we have entered the Anthropocene and are rapidly destroying species and biospheres at an unprecedented rate. Henderson uses the various creatures of each chapter as a launching point to take free ranging discussions into a variety of topics centered around biology, evolution, conservation, pollution, technology, and biodiversity. The messages here are scary, and will not make those of certain political ideology happy, but they are important messages. Unfortunately, I think these messages will continue to fall on deaf ears, ignored through outright denial, and the problems will remain unaddressed until it is far too late. Nevertheless, this book provides an amazing and beautiful insight into the stunning variety of creatures that have evolved on this planet.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    Caspar Henderson's modern bestiary is a masterful blending of the odd, the erudite and the philosophical. The book is an A-Z of unusual life forms that Henderson uses as a platform for fascinating digressions and musings on scientific discovery, evolution and the impact that humans have had on the world we live in. Some of his digressions are surprising - the minute winterbear gives rise to a discussion on space travel for example - but the book flows logically and never flags. This is a sumptuou Caspar Henderson's modern bestiary is a masterful blending of the odd, the erudite and the philosophical. The book is an A-Z of unusual life forms that Henderson uses as a platform for fascinating digressions and musings on scientific discovery, evolution and the impact that humans have had on the world we live in. Some of his digressions are surprising - the minute winterbear gives rise to a discussion on space travel for example - but the book flows logically and never flags. This is a sumptuous book full of line drawings, maps, photos and marginalia. Henderson's footnoting is very effective, using coloured text to guide the eye, rather than numbered superscripts. Books like this are the reason why ebooks will never entirely replace the physical form.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    I was totally obsessed with this book as I was reading it! In this modern "bestiary," based on the creature anthologies of old, Henderson discusses our relationship with the natural world, peppering easy-to-read scientific explanations with literary and philosophical musings. This book felt nourishing to read, and Henderson's enthusiasm and awe at even the world's tiniest creatures is contagious. Not only was this non-fiction book filled with fascinating information about the natural world, from I was totally obsessed with this book as I was reading it! In this modern "bestiary," based on the creature anthologies of old, Henderson discusses our relationship with the natural world, peppering easy-to-read scientific explanations with literary and philosophical musings. This book felt nourishing to read, and Henderson's enthusiasm and awe at even the world's tiniest creatures is contagious. Not only was this non-fiction book filled with fascinating information about the natural world, from axolotls to Japanese macaques, for the novice nature-lover and academic alike, but it's downright fun to read. I loved it and was sad to come to its end.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    An A-Z listing of some (generally) little known creatures which the author uses as springboards for more general musings. The author chose an eclectic and unusual sampling of animals and part of the fun of the book is seeing where he goes with them. Not a book to buy if you want detailed zoological information, but an interesting and diverting set of essays about life, the universe and everything.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Derek Bridge

    I so looked forward to reading this book, and I so wanted to love it. A modern bestiary; each chapter title an extant animal; but each chapter riffing on themes loosely suggested by that animal, taking in science, philosophy and culture. Learned and literary. But just not lovable. Perhaps too ambitious, perhaps too diffuse: the chapters never quite filled me with the joy of learning that they should have. A disappointment.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    Entertaining but rather than a bestiary it seemed more a compendium of animals that reminded the author of other things. Wanted more images / photographs / diagrams of the animals rather than simply the fantastical artwork of it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sophia

    Recently my school got back from winter break, and I am so glad I got this book. Now instead of saying something boring when my teachers ask what I did over break, I just say I was reading about "The fastest gentiles in the west..." and my classmates instantly respect me. Recently my school got back from winter break, and I am so glad I got this book. Now instead of saying something boring when my teachers ask what I did over break, I just say I was reading about "The fastest gentiles in the west..." and my classmates instantly respect me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shannan

    The hard cover is beautiful. I’m going to have to buy this book one day to have the leisure of reading it. Thank you library fairy.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Chris Fowler

    I started ‘The Book of Barely Imagined Beings’ some years ago but came back to it in Lockdown. Caspar Henderson’s astonishing bestiary takes the reader through 27 living things from Axalotl to Zebrafish, exploring real creatures that exhibit properties you 'd have trouble inventing for a fantasy novel. His section on Iridogorgia Pourtaleshi (shells, basically) is riveting because he describes everything with fresh insight. One can see that the fascination with the ‘Alien’ films is largely connec I started ‘The Book of Barely Imagined Beings’ some years ago but came back to it in Lockdown. Caspar Henderson’s astonishing bestiary takes the reader through 27 living things from Axalotl to Zebrafish, exploring real creatures that exhibit properties you 'd have trouble inventing for a fantasy novel. His section on Iridogorgia Pourtaleshi (shells, basically) is riveting because he describes everything with fresh insight. One can see that the fascination with the ‘Alien’ films is largely connected to the strange life-cycles of unbelievably real creatures. The book is stunningly designed to incorporate drawings, nots and sidebars, and I may now have to rebuy it in hardback.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    4 Stars The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is subtitled ‘A 21st Century Bestiary’ and that’s what it is; not a natural history book, not an encyclopedia of animals, a bestiary – an odd fusion of science and navel-gazing. While in a medieval bestiary real and mythological animals were used as symbols for human virtues or vices, in this book real animals are used as starting points to examine wider issues about how human’s relate to both the world and each other. So the Axolotl entry looks at the S 4 Stars The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is subtitled ‘A 21st Century Bestiary’ and that’s what it is; not a natural history book, not an encyclopedia of animals, a bestiary – an odd fusion of science and navel-gazing. While in a medieval bestiary real and mythological animals were used as symbols for human virtues or vices, in this book real animals are used as starting points to examine wider issues about how human’s relate to both the world and each other. So the Axolotl entry looks at the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the Gonodactylus examines the scientific evolution of the eye, and so on. It’s a unique and very interesting approach, but one that doesn’t quite hit the mark in every entry. In the spirit of mimicking of medieval bestiaries the book has also been gorgeously designed; there’s gilding on the cover, a full-page illustration and illuminated capital letter for each animal that incorporates the major themes of the entry, and (best of all) marginalia. It is, quite simply, a beautiful book. And not only beautiful on the outside but unique on the inside. So how did it miss the mark on some of its entries? Well, as admitted by Henderson himself in the introduction, some of the metaphors tying the animal to a wider issue are a little strained – such as the Venus Girdle entry where ‘I also want to make a case for these scintillating bodies of rainbow-light as an emblem of orgasmic beauty as a whole’ then flows into a discussion about scientist’s aversion to studying the orgasm and enjoyment factor in sex when looking at animal reproduction. Interesting as both Venus Girdles and human attitudes towards the orgasm are, it’s a pretty tenuous link at best. Another entry about crabs had a bizarre analogy to robots in it that left me blinking at the page waiting for it to explain. Other chapters seem a bit unevenly weighted, again acknowledged in the introduction (‘Some of the analogies and digressions I have followed have little to do with the animals themselves’). There were a few that moved on from the animal – which I’m going to admit was the main thing I was interested in – a little too quickly for my liking, leaving me going ‘wait! But I didn’t learn anything new yet!’. In fact, I actually learnt a hell of a lot from this book. Did you know that a dolphin orgy is called a ‘wuzzle’? It’s the most adorable term for a gangbang I’ve ever heard. A moray eel has two sets of jaws. There are breeds of sharks called wobbegongs. Dolphins will play ball games using inflated pufferfish (dolphins are the dicks of the sea). And the Japanese macaque has a face that resembles George W. Bush (once it’s seen it cannot be unseen!). Henderson is obviously passionate about animals, zoology, and conservationism, he writes in the first person about several of his own experiences with the animals he mentions. His writing style is easy to read and the science is (mostly) presented in a way that I could absorb and understand. I was disappointed to find, when doing a bit of research myself, that one American church he sites as believing Jesus co-existed with dinosaurs and pterosaurs is actually (probably) a parody – nobody on the internet seems to be able to tell 100% whether they’re real or not, so I guess it’s fair enough to mention them, but the omission that many believe it to be parody was either disingenuous or not well researched (that whole chapter was a bit odd actually). On the science, the animals, and his own contemplations though, he is a lot better. A very interesting, and very unique, book. I found something to enjoy in every entry and it is presented absolutely beautifully. Not one to pick up if you’re just after the nitty-gritty science facts, or only want to hear about animals and don’t really care for the author’s tangents. But if you think the idea of a modern natural history text written and presented in the style of a medieval bestiary sounds pretty awesome it might be worth checking out.

  21. 5 out of 5

    night

    I am absolutely spellbound by this book. Not only is it wonderfully organized and beautifully written, but it is also so highly informative. A modern take on ‘natural philosophy’ that uses the framework of specimens from the animal kingdom we all have seemed to forgotten. The author was careful to set each animal within a larger context, leading to a greater understanding of not only the animal itself but also the world and history. He goes into meticulous detail on climate change, the origin an I am absolutely spellbound by this book. Not only is it wonderfully organized and beautifully written, but it is also so highly informative. A modern take on ‘natural philosophy’ that uses the framework of specimens from the animal kingdom we all have seemed to forgotten. The author was careful to set each animal within a larger context, leading to a greater understanding of not only the animal itself but also the world and history. He goes into meticulous detail on climate change, the origin and future of life, geology, astronomy, history, and so much more. Moreover, the vintage illustrations give it this special feeling and I was more than once lost in exploration through the pages to find my most favourite artwork. I would really love to have a long chat with the author out of curiosity to find out more as I was so in love with every page. A collection of biological curiosities and digressions that I can warmly recommend to everyone.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Chalchihut

    A science book full of art (and literature as well). I got hooked by the cover and illustrations of the book and bought it right away and the book filled my reading moments with joy. It's not an ordinary science book where you can find the biological definitions of the given topics. It's more of trying to dig into humans' souls, understanding the beauty around us by the help of mentioning the related features of some "extraordinary" animals. Another point which made the book interesting to read w A science book full of art (and literature as well). I got hooked by the cover and illustrations of the book and bought it right away and the book filled my reading moments with joy. It's not an ordinary science book where you can find the biological definitions of the given topics. It's more of trying to dig into humans' souls, understanding the beauty around us by the help of mentioning the related features of some "extraordinary" animals. Another point which made the book interesting to read was that it was full of contemporary tools (for eg. giving video recommendations for internet) and the scientific discoveries from recent years. Easily, one of the best science books I've ever read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sheryl

    As I read mostly non-fiction, I keep small "stickies" next to where I read for marking mentioned books, subjects and other interesting things I may want to investigate later. This book has at least fifteen of these flags. I don't remember having marked so many things in a book for quite some time. I was introduced to animals I did not know existed such as the Porcelain Crab with its white body and blue or red patterns on top of its shell. They are quite lovely. I discovered that the Germans call As I read mostly non-fiction, I keep small "stickies" next to where I read for marking mentioned books, subjects and other interesting things I may want to investigate later. This book has at least fifteen of these flags. I don't remember having marked so many things in a book for quite some time. I was introduced to animals I did not know existed such as the Porcelain Crab with its white body and blue or red patterns on top of its shell. They are quite lovely. I discovered that the Germans call turtles "shield-toads" and the Hungarians call them "bowl-frogs". Finally, I found at least five books that I want to investigate. This was quite a fascinating read. Aside from the occasional unnecessary digs at Christians and conservatives in general, this was quite enjoyable.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dana

    A beautiful, humorous and wise book that I will continue dipping into for years to come. I would recommend getting this book in hardback as part of the fun of it is the wonderful illustrations and the lovely cover. It does remind me of a classic medieval bestiary in that it not only has marginalia and lots of lovely tidbits of information, but that the discussions of the various animals invariably segue to many other topics -- though, granted, not usually religious parables. Though the consequen A beautiful, humorous and wise book that I will continue dipping into for years to come. I would recommend getting this book in hardback as part of the fun of it is the wonderful illustrations and the lovely cover. It does remind me of a classic medieval bestiary in that it not only has marginalia and lots of lovely tidbits of information, but that the discussions of the various animals invariably segue to many other topics -- though, granted, not usually religious parables. Though the consequences of ecological devastation are threaded throughout the book, its overall message is one of delight in the wonders of the natural world -- with a reminder that we too are of that world, and will be affected by its future.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kin Guan

    It is a bestiary, written for actual animals with the flair of medieval writing. You may not be able to learn a detailed list of information about the curious animals, but Henderson's way of weaving philosophy, history and science together into an organic web of ... fascinations, wildly imagined stuff. We would be more able to appreciate the beauty and bizarreness of the nature if we try to understand them more. By looking at them, human look in their eyes at our own souls, being refined and ele It is a bestiary, written for actual animals with the flair of medieval writing. You may not be able to learn a detailed list of information about the curious animals, but Henderson's way of weaving philosophy, history and science together into an organic web of ... fascinations, wildly imagined stuff. We would be more able to appreciate the beauty and bizarreness of the nature if we try to understand them more. By looking at them, human look in their eyes at our own souls, being refined and elevated every moment we strive to be a better, civilized person on this very Earth. Have a good read!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jim Dudley

    This book is much more than it seems. I initially picked it up in the hope of collating a few interesting facts about some weird and wonderful species (which I did), but I feel like I was looking into a pond for the reflection and have seen right to the bottom. Caspar Henderson uses the fascinating creatures in this book merely to introduce much broader subjects such as the meaning of life, how we have impacted the planet, space travel and genetics. Worth a read, but give yourself plenty of time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Frances

    I love it when a book itself is meant for book lovers, while not especially ABOUT books. It's such a joy to read and look at. HUZZAH FOR WHIMSY, PEOPLE. Don't underestimate the power of whimsy. The author doesn't take himself too seriously, and while I wish there was a bit more hard science in here (it gets pretty anecdotal at times when placing each animal in context), I'm all about making biology more palatable to the casual interested individual. Biology is COOL. I love it when a book itself is meant for book lovers, while not especially ABOUT books. It's such a joy to read and look at. HUZZAH FOR WHIMSY, PEOPLE. Don't underestimate the power of whimsy. The author doesn't take himself too seriously, and while I wish there was a bit more hard science in here (it gets pretty anecdotal at times when placing each animal in context), I'm all about making biology more palatable to the casual interested individual. Biology is COOL.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Cataldo

    I bought the book because of an exciting interview on NPR radio. Giddy with anticipation I sat down to read it. The experience was like biting into a mouthful of packing peanuts. Nothing, nothing, nothing. The illustrations are sweet but the content is like dictionary copy. There is nothing here you don't already know or could live without. Don't bother to read this book. I bought the book because of an exciting interview on NPR radio. Giddy with anticipation I sat down to read it. The experience was like biting into a mouthful of packing peanuts. Nothing, nothing, nothing. The illustrations are sweet but the content is like dictionary copy. There is nothing here you don't already know or could live without. Don't bother to read this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

    Sometimes the mix of biological fact and philosophical speculation is fun, sometimes it seems to mean just getting started on something interesting. A fun book to dip into but I couldn't read it all through. But the author's enthusiasm is engaging. Sometimes the mix of biological fact and philosophical speculation is fun, sometimes it seems to mean just getting started on something interesting. A fun book to dip into but I couldn't read it all through. But the author's enthusiasm is engaging.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    A very thought-provoking book. Both a celebration of the Earth's oddest creatures and a lament for the damage that humans have inflicted upon many of them (and countless other species). However the book does leave us with some sense of hope; all is not yet lost. Overall an enjoyable read. A very thought-provoking book. Both a celebration of the Earth's oddest creatures and a lament for the damage that humans have inflicted upon many of them (and countless other species). However the book does leave us with some sense of hope; all is not yet lost. Overall an enjoyable read.

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