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

Univ. of Chicago. 2013. 448p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780226044705. $35. NAT HIST
Common in the Middle Ages, bestiaries were richly illustrated descriptions of both real and mythological animals accompanied by moralizing commentary. The present volume, following that pattern, provides zoological information on 27 real animals, both terrestrial and marine, some endangered and some already extinct. The dolphin, flatworm, human(!), right whale, and octopus are among the animals examined. Henderson, a British journalist, provides historical, literary, and philosophical background on each animal, along with discussion of environmental and human threats to its survival. Photographs, drawings, diagrams, medieval-style frontispieces and illuminated capitals, as in the original bestiaries, and quotations from writers in diverse fields enrich the text. The conclusion provides a warning about environmental resources and pollution. Two informative appendixes cover the zoological classification system and the time line of geological eras.
VERDICT This reviewer found no comparable titles in terms of this book's scheme, approach, and format. This readable volume, tracing the history of science and philosophy in relation to each animal, will appeal to the serious reader with broad interests in science, mythology, folklore, and speculation on questions of the human condition.
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