PollenI have to confess that (aside from a handful of dusty old memories from school biology textbooks) the finer details of botanical reproduction have always managed to pass me by without much resistance. Much was my surprise, therefore, when I found myself unintentionally making loud exclamations with each turn of the page whilst flicking through Pollen: The Hidden Sexuality of Flowers.

Apparently, far from being microscopic irritants that make me sneeze during the summer, pollen grains are some of the natural world’s most fascinating and beautifully designed objects. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t happen to know this unless you could see the world through a microscope. Thankfully then, photographer Rob Kesseler and leading botanist Madeline Harley have combined their talents to produce a book which reveals a side of nature which you feel genuinely privileged to witness. There is something quite alien about the world around us which is too small to see, and this book manages to capture both the fantasy and the science of that world.

I now realise that if the textbooks I read at school had contained just a modicum of the interest of Pollen, my knowledge of biology would be considerably less dusty. This is an ideal title for all botanists and those just looking for an enjoyable bit of intellectual spring cleaning. Also recommended is Seeds: Time Capsules of Life, which also contains photography by Rob Kesseler.

Toucans of the Americas/Tucanos das Americas

Years ago I was mesmerised by the sumptuous, leather bound facsimile of John Gould’s Monograph of the Ramphastidae or Family of Toucans, but the price tag of £1200 put it somewhat beyond my means. But now there is Toucans of the Americas/Tucanos das Americas which, although lacking the leather and enormous size of the facsimile, is equally as beautiful, informative – and I can afford it! Thank you Herculano Alvarenga and Eduardo Brettas, for producing such a glorious book.

Toucans of the Americas/Tucanos das Americas

Toucans. Tucanos. It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s definitely something special about them. Whether you think that their brightly coloured, over-sized bill, wide, playful eyes and dinner jacket feathering makes them beautiful, funny or a little bit of both, it’s difficult not to be swayed by their appearance. It’s certainly no coincidence that, from Guinness to Disneyland (not to mention a dubious assortment of breakfast cereals), these iconic neo-tropical birds have been used by marketing men to charm customers the world over. Thankfully, therefore, this family of birds are accurately represented here in the concordantly charming Toucans of the Americas/Tucanos das Americas, one of those delightful books which has you smiling without realising.

It’s a fairly rare find to come across a book which so agreeably combines a work of science and a work of art – a feat this book manages to achieve quite effortlessly – whilst also being entirely bi-lingual. And, although it is too big to be used as a field identification guide, the scientific descriptions of each species will educate and inform whilst the accurate full-page colour plates skillfully capture the unique appeal of these birds whilst also staying true to the scientific nature of the book. This excellent book is available now and comes highly recommended.

The Sound Approach to Birding

Considering the universal appeal of birdsong, and the phenomenal quantity of birding literature which is published each year, it seems suprising that bird calls are, by and large, marginalised by authors. The phoentic notes often included in field guides consistently appear to be little more than afterthoughts on behalf of the authors to placate the reader rather than to actually help them identify birds auditorially. Consequently, The Sound Approach to Birding is an indispensible title for all birders, as it describes the ins, outs, how and whys of understanding bird calls in more than adequate detail. Thankfully, it is also written with a good deal of humour and personability which makes it an enjoyable read as well.

Birding beginners will find that after a couple of chapters of this book they will have the knowledge to show up more seasoned individuals, whilst experienced bird watchers will find this book fills in many vital gaps in their understanding of birds. Add to all of this 2 CDs of beautifully recorded bird calls from around the world and you’ve got a pretty special book. It’s education, but not as we know it.

Stern Review

The recently published Stern Review has generated an overwhelming amount of speculation, debate and controversy in the last few days. Climate Change is front-page news, and rightly so, but does all this talk represent a genuine change in thought on behalf of either our governments or the public, or is it little more than a passing phase?

In response to Sir Nicholas Stern’s report, Tony Blair remarked that the consequences of inaction are “literally disastrous” and, whilst few would argue with his sentiment, it seems to me that this is a fairly well established viewpoint – not to mention ground we covered during negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol. The fact that only now are we seriously contemplating green taxes and new global initiatives suggests that it is Stern’s economic forecasts rather than his environmental ones which have prompted this new wave of political action. Climate Change could cost millions of lives and have dire consequences for biodiversity, but it is the fact that it could cost the world up to 20% of its GDP that has made our leaders truly sit up and think.

Stay informed with the publication of this major report, pre-order your copy now to beat the rush or have a look at some of our other top titles on Climate Change. Also, feel free to post your opinions on the NHBS Biblio-Blog.

Birding South-East China

We in the book trade owe a lot to the Chinese. Not only did their ancient ancestors invent the process of printing, they also invented paper so that they would have something to print on. Indeed, quite aside from books, China has one of the richest and most powerful histories of any world nation. Somewhat surprisingly, therefore, many people still view this compelling country as the only remaining cloth in the iron curtain. However, for over two decades, China has opened its borders up to visitors and, for years, tourists and locals have been munching Big Macs on Tiananmen Square.

You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, to read that the charms of China do not lie in fast food, however. China’s landscapes and wildlife are a fair match for its fantastic history, culture and people. Consequently, there is a growing demand for nature guides to the area, the latest of which, Birding South-East China, reveals in its pages an untapped paradise for birders. Combining ample maps, photographs and information on species and travel to please even the most intrepid and inquisitive of twitchers, this delightful book portrays a diverse, rich avifauna in a diverse, rich corner of our natural world. Names of towns are even written in Mandarin to aid communication (via the international language of pointing) with bus and taxi drivers.

There will never be a better time to visit China than now. Tourism and westernization are still relatively in their infanthood whilst increases in social freedoms and economic stability are putting China back on the map – yet another of their inventions.

Cutting Away: The Art of Robert Gillmor

There’s no doubt about it, Robert Gillmor is a lucky man. For half a century, he’s been able to indulge his two main passions in life – Birds and Art – and he’s been handsomly rewarded for his troubles. Having seen his art appear in over 100 books, exhibited worldwide and his limited edition prints consistently sold for hundreds of pounds, he has come to be recognised as one of our generation’s finest bird artists. Accordingly, 20 years ago he was invited to create the cover-work for the prestigious New Naturalist Book Series – an ongoing relationship which has brought his fine work to the attention of the world’s nature lovers and increased the collectability of the literary series immeasurably. If only life could be this kind to all of us.

As a less than gifted artist myself, the chances of me living such a life are – I admit – rather poor (to say the least). However, no lack of personal talent could stop me from thoroughly enjoying Cutting Away, which provides the reader with a wonderful collection of beautifully understated images, uniquely created using linocut printing. Here, Gillmor’s art is complimented by anecdotes and insights on his work and life as a highly involved naturalist.

This outstanding book is unmissable for collectors of the New Naturalist Series, followers of Gillmor’s work, and anyone who holds an appreciation for the art of nature. Just try to keep your jealousy at bay. For examples of Gillmor’s work, see the covers of some recent New Naturalist titles: ‘Bumblebees‘, ‘Woodlands‘ or ‘Moths

The Human Factor

A quick look at the BBC News website this lunchtime reveals two interesting articles about our fellow Homo sapiens.

Firstly, the population of the USA reached 300 million as of 11:46GMT today. Just one big number among many big numbers which emerge when discussing how population sizes are growing rapidly in many parts of the world. When do we collectively accept a shared responsibility to consider a global population size based on replacement? Jared Diamond builds towards this point in Collapse (now in paperback). How do we manage our resources and the (inevitable) impact we have on the planet? A number of noteworthy new titles investigate e.g. An Introduction to Sustainable Development, and, focusing on the direct consequence of growing populations and (welcome) development the Earthscan Reader in Sustainable Consumption. In the midst of our consumption, and even in spite of our efforts, what lengths must we take to protect biodiversity? Gaining Ground: In Pursuit of Ecological Sustainability makes a powerful case for the protection of wildlife. How do we balance the high standard of living some of us are lucky enough to enjoy, and that we hope will soon extend to all, with the responsibilty to manage the planet. How are our societies to make these choices, and how are the issues being presented to the public? Environmental Sociology investigates our response to the facts.

Secondly, Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics predicts that the human species will split in two over the next 100,000 years. Curry bases this on likely mating preferences between socio-economic classes – read Mating Systems and Strategies to find out more about the implications of mate choice, or The Complete World of Human Evolution for a broad introduction to humankind.

The Art of Robert Bateman

Robert Bateman’s love of the natural world is clearly evident in this 25th Anniversary edition of his first book. While being scientifically accurate his paintings are essentially a celebration of wild things and wild places. He avoids sentimentality, while evoking the beauty and splendour of the world around him. Whether it’s a pair of loons gliding serenenly across a lake, or a more frenetic scene of a peregrine diving after a swift, Bateman creates an honest and enduring image.

The Art of Robert Bateman is an inspirational book, born from one man’s passion and dedication to wildlife; a great artist and a great naturalist, Bateman is a master of the wildlife-art genre. If you have a fervour and zeal for the beauty of the natural world, indulge your passion with this book. Available at NHBS from early November.

Planet Earth: The Future

The world-wide success of this year’s BBC documentary ‘Planet Earth’ showed that there is great deal of public interest in the state of our planet and it’s many inhabitants. This may be because, as they say, the best stories are true ones, but I hope that the millions of people who tuned in to watch every week also appreciated that the ongoing story of Planet Earth not only affects us, but that we will be writing the next chapter – for better or worse.

The latest book to be borne of the multi-million pound production, Planet Earth: The Future, seeks to educate, entertain and ultimately guide us to ensure that we try to write a happy ending. Unlike the majority of books on the topic of sustainability, it is written for everybody and seeing as environmental issues are everybody’s issues, this can only be considered a good thing. With contributions from David Attenborough, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Richard Mabey (to name but a few), I can’t recommend this important, inexpensive book highly enough.

Other books based on the BBC series Planet Earth: Planet Earth: The Making of An Epic Series and Planet Earth