I am intensely irritated by this book. Yet I cannot keep myself from paging through its marvels. It's like the Anthropologie catalog - you just know the clothes are poorly made and ridiculously overpriced, but ooh! that skirt is cute!
Billed as "A landmark in reference publishing,' it is instead, like many DK books, useless as a guide in any practical sense. "Over 5000" species are pictured, with little captions, grouped in taxonomic order. But the taxa are only explained in the most rudimentary terms - "The plants in this order are genetically similar but physically different." Oh? In what way? Further, there is no indication of scale, no habitat context, and, while 5000 may sound like a lot? It's not.
There's a reason why museums have moved away from the taxonomic display, in which collections of shells, beetles, mineral specimens, mice, lichen, etc. are ganged together and lined up in cases or wall mounts, to displays in which species are grouped by habitat, ecological niche, or some other commonality - it's because nonspecialists can learn more from a habitat group than from yet another example of the vanishingly minute or exponentially large differences between species.
But. As DK knows, placing colorful little photos on a stark white background creates a jewel box for the eye. And a highly edited taxonomic display - just the most unusual species - allows us to marvel at the seemingly infinite ways that a few bare organic building blocks can combine themselves and be life.
The fact that the species pictured were obviously picked for their looks and not their importance allows us to frivolously flip through as casual consumers, as if walking through MoMA and stopping at Monet's Waterlilies to reflect how well that would go with our blue couch.
So buy this for the kid in your life. No, I mean it. Buy it like you'd buy an art book, as inspiration.
What fantasy-oriented kid could browse the fungus section of this book and not start thinking about fairy rings? Your creative kid will find new colors and shapes to incorporate into his artistic vocabulary. And the engineer will see barbs and feathers and segmented exoskeletons and start going through the recycling bin to make a new robot harvester machine or something. Even a kid interested in nature, though she might turn her nose up at the once-over-lightly nature of this book, will accept it as an album of pretties to shelve next to her more useful field guides.
I do wish that DK would put a decent binding on when they manufacture a big heavy book like this, though. Handle with care, or the glue is going to break.
Nonfiction Monday is hosted today by Sherrie at Write About Now.