Tuesday, May 7, 2013

World's Rarest Birds: A book review

Early May 2013

Once in a while you see a really big book that really brings things together - more so than any website or database or other electronic compilation. This book brings this to mind. I'm holding a copy of "The World's Rarest Birds" by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash & Robert Still. Published in 2013 by Princeton University Press with production and design by WildGuides Ltd.

This book showcases 590 rare species in need of protection; and it truly is a landmark publication. You can read structural details at http://www.theworldsrarestbirds.com/.

A work such as this brings to mind why we need to keep buying coffee table books, why we need to support this communication and education medium.

Some points that really shine through:
  • First, this is a monument to the most endangered birds, each bird is given space and comparably reviewed within a scientifically organized framework- in one big coffee-table book. 
  • The book is up-to-date and comprehensive, combining species accounts with great conceptual reviews per continent and per theme. 
  • Behind the book is a conservation science initiative, supported by species population data, excellent range maps etc. meticulously maintained by BirdLife International. Lots of experts and staff of BirdLife directly contributed and supported the book - and they are frequently acknowledged for this supportive contribution. The book promotes the BirdLife International community of NGOs really well. 
  • The photographic resource in this book is stupendous; two prestigious photo completions were organized specifically for attracting the rare material for this book. No less than 467 photographers contributed to this project. No compilation of such rare photos has ever before been put together.
  • An illustrator has been used to give picture-like renditions of some of the 70 or so species that could not be photographed (over 100 illustrations such as these are included).
  • The book is seriously conservation-minded; it focuses on the threats birds face and is educational: It helps one easily understand how the IUCN/BirdLife threatened species categories and threshold criteria work. 
  • The book provides an outlet for electronic research as well: Quick Response (QR) codes can guide you the BirdLife International's fact sheets about each species.
  • Lastly, the book is a piece of art. The design is excellent. There are many great design ideas in this book... You hold it, you think while reading it. You dip into it and feel its weight, its smell, its power to lend value to the issue of biodiversity conservation. 
Finally, this book "travels" us the readers mainly to the tropics - and the tropical islands. This is where the overwhelming majority of the world's most threatened birds live. It shows me that the temperate (or warm temperate) areas that I inhabit and study are but on the edge of the richest areas for biodiveristy. We must not stop thinking of the tropics, of wildeness volcanic islands clothed in emreld jungles. 

I recommend this book - especially as a gift and a great reference. It will help you dream on and even find some hope for survival....

I thank Princeton University Press for sending me a copy for this review.