Friday, 21 November 2014

Comments on a few books

Describing this as "Book Reviews" seems a tad pretentious but I have enjoyed a few books recently that might be of interest to others.  Most of the links below go to Amazon because that came up first in my Googling: if you prefer other vendors go for it.

"Down the garden Path", Beverley Nichols.  

Originally published in 1932 this is a great read as containing some brilliant (in some cases almost vicious) depictions of the people associated with the garden Nichols develops in a rural area of England.  He does also cover basic principles of garden design but its the characters that I liked and got it included here.

It is also a very funny book!

"Wild America" Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher

Published in 1955, I think this was just about the first book covering a Big Year in the US.   It is astonishing to read the first few pages - dealing with a period when a direct flight from London to New York was too long so flights had to refuel at Gander - in an era when New York to Singapore is readily achieved.

As one would expect from two such well known naturalists it is a brilliant book.  They chose to write with the two authors writing separate sections (sometimes commenting on what the other has written when it is their turn, or adding footnotes as appropriate). This adds to the humour of the book.  

(The link to Amazon mentions a bundling opportunity including the excellent Kingbird Highway which I haven't read for many years - memo to self: do so soon but references Wild America as an inspiration for a Huge Year in about 1973.  Kaufmann got it into publishable shape in the 1990s)

The eye of the wind, Peter Scott

This is an autobiography of Sir Peter Scott and was a great surprise to me in terms of the balance of his various lives within the book.  I have always known of him as a naturalist and broadcaster with a general awareness of his reputation as a wildlife artist.  While those aspects are covered, I found much more ink was expended on:
  • his time at school and university, with more coverage of wildfowling than nature conservation;
  • service in the Navy during WWII (very interesting insights into conduct of various sized ships in combat conditions). 
  • yacht-racing, up to Olympic level, and 
  • gliding (which basically confirmed my view to never have anything to do with this activity).
That is not a negative, as it is very well written and new information is always welcome, but merely a reflection of my expectations being otherwise.  

The number of "names" - and titles - mentioned is quite massive but serves to illustrate how well connected he was as a results of the reputations of both his parents.

An excellent read.

Biodiversity- Science and solutions for Australia  editors Steve Morton, Andy Sheppard and Mark Lonsdale.

This book was published in 2014 by CSIRO.  Unlike the others it is available as a download - or indeed chapter by chapter download - if your ISP arrangements can handle files up to 30.1Mb.

Also unlike the other volumes mentioned I haven't yet finished reading it. That is because it isn't quite as gripping reading: it is a reference work not a Ripping Yarn!  I suspect it also has a further role.

This suspicion came about in part when reading some words on p27 about marsupials 
"The only thing they do not do is feed on flying insects which remains the job of birds and bats." 
 The authors go on to support these words but they seemed such a massive simplification I started to wonder why it had been said and who the audience was the audience for the book.  Then the word "simple" grew in my mind - surely it is aimed at politicians in need of sound bites!  That also explains the use of the chunder inducing "Key Messages " at the start of each chapter.

There is some interesting stuff in the book and the price is right (especially if you ask them to mail you a copy at no charge) so I intend to persevere (but at the moment "The Once and Future King" by T H White is filling in my discretionary time.)

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