Saturday, October 25, 2008

We know more than they think we do

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, animals

I generally eschew the encyclopedic genre, but this one had a title I couldn't ignore: The Book of Animal Ignorance, by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson. The blurb says, "Everything you know is wrong", which is overhype if I've ever seen it.

The book consists of 100 two- to three-page articles. The authors took pains to include many familiar animals (dog, goat, octupus…) and mixed in quite a number of the less familiar ones (binturong, fossa, quoll…). Of course, with libraries aplenty available, it was not hard to come up with a good number of facts that are not generally known. The harder tasks was making it entertaining.

One strong element of interest is that mechanical knowledge about many of the animals is conveyed with diagrams such as this one, that explains the origin of a crane's ear-shattering voice (p. 57). Another is sprightly commentary, such as this tidbit:
"A single square foot of forest contains a million mites from more than two hundred species. Not that you have to go as far as the woods. As you read this, the follicle mite, Demodex folliculorum, is using its needle-shaped jaws to feast on the oil from the sebaceous glands at the base of your eyelashes. Demodex mites look like chubby toothbrushes…" (pp. 132-3)
Two zigs in three sentences! It's enough to get you dizzy.

Though I tend to read things in sequence, even true encyclopedias, this is really a book for dipping here and there as the fancy strikes. Fun.

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