December 2008

Wild things

By American Museum of Natural History
By Stacey O'Brien
By Tim Birkhead
By Kathryn Dun
By Arden Moore
By Arden Moore
By Jessica Disbrow Talley
By Gotham
Review by
Share this Article:

Animal Life is the ultimate armchair expedition for wildlife enthusiasts. Compiled in association with the American Museum of Natural History and captured by some of the world's best wildlife photographers, this coffee – table safari is full of action – packed close encounters with some of the world's most exotic and familiar species. Broken into three massive sections – the Animal Kingdom, Animal Anatomy and Animal Behavior – the book uses the most distinctive or spectacular examples to illustrate every aspect of life in the wild, from birth and development, sexual rivalry and raising young, play and learning, and society and intelligence to predation, scavenging, hunting, camouflage and deception. Unforgettable pictures include a brown trout leaping out of a stream, mouth gaping, to eat a damselfly, a flock of oxpeckers sucking blood from the back and ears of an African buffalo, giraffe in combat and a short account of how the Marsh Warbler learns its song. But nature can be harsh as well, graphically illustrated by a mother cheetah bringing back small or injured prey for her babies to practice the kill, and a grey heron stepping on the head of a flock mate before dining on its flesh.

For the birds

A mouse-devouring predator with an injured wing makes a strange but fascinating soul mate in Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl. When Caltech biologist Stacey O'Brien is asked to adopt a four – day – old barn owlet by her research department, she is wary of raising an unreleasable wild animal in her living space. But the chance to observe bird behavior outside the lab intrigues the ethologist. "After all, theoretical scientists do not require a lab," she writes, "only a piece of paper, a pencil, and a fantastic brain." Quickly, O'Brien is killing the many live mice the bird needs to grow into a striking 18 – inch predator that flutters into her heart, her researcher's brain and every corner of her life. Wesley imprints on the scientist as he sleeps next to her in a box on a pillow, and matures to swoop with his talons and pounce on prey (O'Brien lifts one tiny foot to find a smashed spider). He fills her bathroom cupboards with strips of old magazines, calling her to them with a nesting cry. O'Brien has this remarkable feathered creature as her companion for nearly 20 years, through illness and other challenges, bonding girl and bird in a true love story that crossed species and confounded expectations. "He was my teacher," she writes, "my companion, my child, my playmate, my reminder of God."

Any bird lover who has refilled a feeder on a cold December morning, or gone out to the backyard to try to find the owl hooting at midnight and wondered, who else is as crazy as me, will find good company in The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology. Prize – winning writer/ornithologist Tim Birkhead turns the long and disjointed history of birds into an accessible, engaging look at the beauty, songs, behavior and balletic ability of this ancient species. Inspired by the work of 17th – century British biologist John Ray, Birkhead takes a fresh look at bird behavior and ecology with entertaining stories based on the observations and discoveries of scientists, biologists and bird lovers throughout history. Footnotes, a glossary, index and bibliography will appeal to the amateur ornithologist, but the tales and illustrations will thrill any birdwatcher curious about those who gather the information they use to learn about the lives of their feathered friends.

Counting sheep

Beautiful Sheep: Portraits of Champion Breeds is a shepherd's Playboy, filled with gorgeous specimens swathed in every type of wool coat, perched on delicate, downy legs. Farm veterinarian and professor Kathryn Dun, who descends from a family of Scottish sheep breeders (she helped deliver Dolly, the cloned sheep), presents rams and ewes from the ancient herding cultures of the world, evolved to match the landscape: cotton – cloud Oxford Down soft as the Cotswold hills, the long lustrous ringlets of the English Wensleydale, the shaggy black Hebridean of rugged Scotland, with its ribbed horns. The origin and distribution of each breed, as well as its distinguishing features and uses, is included. While sections on sheep history and the show scene in the British Isles would most likely interest only sheep breeders, herding dog fanciers and agrarians, the photos of sheep posing against a canvas backdrop by Paul Farnham are like stunning Dutch still lifes, with the sheep's glassy stare reminding viewers of the time when hardy, healthy livestock were the lifeblood of any village or community.

Pet projects

Happy Dog, Happy You: Quick Tips for Building a Bond with Your Furry Friend and Happy Cat, Happy You: Quick Tips for Building a Bond with Your Feline Friend feature an adorable retro design packed with genius shortcuts to bring out the "doggone best" and "feline finest" in a pet relationship. Arden Moore (The Dog Behavior Answer Book, The Cat Behavior Answer Book) concentrates on simple essentials for a quality life with tips on raising, training, housing and feeding a dog or cat, along with healthful recipes. Happy Dog also includes excellent tips on canine sports and exercising and traveling with a dog; Happy Cat tackles multi – cat households as well as cat – proofing a house and caring for feline senior citizens.

Grandma always said homemade is better, and that goes for pets as well. Jessica and Eric Talley, founders of Bubba Rose Biscuit Company, have created delicious recipes that a canine bubbe can make or bake in The Organic Dog Biscuit Cookbook. This gorgeous compact hardback features 100 illustrated recipes for organic treats and entrees including Teenie Weenie Banana Barkinis, "Asnackadopoulis" (feta cheese, oats and spinach), Honey Mutts (honey and oat biscuits), Energy Barks, Muddy Paws (carob treats), and Pupeyes (spinach biscuits). Some low – fat and meat – , grain – and gluten – free recipes are included along with helpful sidebars on super foods for dogs and nutritional no – no's. While the book's super – simple recipes repeat many of the same ingredients, your pooch will never tire of these wholesome foods.

Read it for the LOLs

Does "I Can Has Cheezburger?" sound like the Queen's English to you? O hai, welcum LOLcat fan! Visitors to the website add funny "capshuns" to snapshots of cats in a wacky feline pidgin language. The site has become a worldwide sensation and social networking hub with millions of visitors, and LOLspeak now extends to wedding vows and even a Bible translation. I Can Has Cheezburger? A LOLcat Colleckshun collects 200 classic pairings from the site – Do Not Want and Oh Noes! are here – plus gigglesome new "kittehs." These constructs land squarely in the category of "you had to be there," but picture this: a ginger cat hides in an empty aquarium, and says: K … i redy. u may add fishies nao. If such LOLcat mischief strikes you as hilarious, this is a colleckshun you won't want to miss.

Trending Reviews

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our newsletter to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres every Tuesday.