Tag Archives: 21st Century Non-fiction

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar HendersonThe Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary by Caspar Henderson
Illustrated by Golbanou Moghaddas

First Published: 2012
Pages:
427 (Hardback)
Form: Non-Fiction, Science, Natural History, Zoology, Bestiary

Rating:

From the Axolotl to the Zebrafish, our planet contains a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing than anything dreamt 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 bizarreness 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 reflection, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is infectiously celebratory about the sheer ingenuity and variety of life.

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. Continue reading

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Kraken, Wendy Williams

Kraken, Wendy Williams Kraken: The Curious, Exciting, And Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid by Wendy Williams

Publisher: Abrams Image
Pages:
223 (Hardback)
Form: Non-Fiction, Science, Natural History, Marine Biology

Rating: 4/54/54/54/54/5

The word kraken conjures up visions of gigantic, tentacled, and deadly sea monsters, but it’s an image born more of legend than reality. The oceans, however, do remain one of the last sources of profound mystery on earth, and they have been slow to give up the secrets of the creatures that sailors have mythologized and demonized for thousands of years.

In Kraken, author Wendy Williams reveals the truths behind the squid, one of the most charismatic, enigmatic, and curious inhabitants of the sea, unfurling a wild narrative ride through the world of squid science and adventure. In addition to squid, both giant and otherwise, Kraken examines other equally enthralling cephalopods, including the octopus and cuttlefish.

Along the way, Williams examines

  • the riddle of just what constitutes intelligence via the octopus, an animal whose brain is wrapped around its throat;
  • the use of kaleidoscopic skin cells that allow cephalopods to instantly assume a range of colours, from neutrals to neon, for camouflage and communication;
  • the ways that squid have greatly helped scientists understand the inner workings of the human brain despite their seemingly alien biology;
  • the squid’s ability to survive the five major mass extinctions over the past half billion years.

Accessible and entertaining, Kraken is the first substantial volume on the subject of squid in more than a decade, offering up the stories of the scientists who pursue these extraordinary creatures as well as the latest research and information about these fascinating and mysterious animals.

Kraken is one of those beautiful natural history hardbacks that I normally gaze longingly at for several minutes in the bookshop before reminding myself that a) it’s probably far too expensive for me b) I don’t read non-fiction that often and have a whole bookshelf of it already that I haven’t managed to read yet, and c) I’m not as much of a sciencey person as I would like to be and probably won’t understand it anyway. However, this winter I managed to get myself a temporary Christmas job in Waterstone’s entitling me to 40% (40%!) discount for the month of December. So naturally I not only bought absolutely all of my Christmas presents there, I treated myself to some as well by ignoring all the paperback fiction I normally pick up and going straight for the stuff I always talk myself out of buying. Continue reading

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A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregor

A History of the World in 100 Objects, Neil MacGregorA History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor

Publisher: Penguin
Pages:
614 plus introduction (Paperback)
Form: Non-Fiction, History

Rating: 5/55/55/55/55/5

A golden galleon, a stone-age tool, a credit card … every object tells a story.

This acclaimed history tells the story of the world, and our place in it, in an entirely new way, through 100 things we have either admired and preserved, or used, broken and thrown away. It will take you on a journey back in time and across the globe, to see how we humans have shaped our world, and been shaped by it, over the past two million years.

A History of the World in 100 objects started life as a radio programme by the BBC (podcasts still available to download for free here) in which the director of the British Museum used 100 very varied objects from the museum’s collections to emphasise key points and ideas throughout human history. Although I didn’t listen to it at the time (I have now dowloaded the podcasts), as a history student with an interest in archaeology and museum’s I was aware of it, so a few years later when I saw this beautiful blue copy of the book sitting on the ‘buy one get one half-price’ table in Waterstone’s it was impossible to resist. I had intended, like several people I know through my museum volunteering, to read one entry a day, but instantly found myself enjoying it so much that I was devouring whole blocks of the book at a time and having to force myself to stop and save some for later.

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