I've purchased all five books in this series (Fifty Animals, Plants, Minerals, Machines, and Railroads that Changed the Course of History) and they've proven consistently delightful. Each one carefully selects many of the pivotal things that have had a profound impact on human life and societies on a large scale, connecting them both directly and tangentially to numerous other items and events. One will not agree with the authors' every choice, but they are always thought-provoking.
In entries that range from two to eight pages, "Fifty Animals" describes the creatures that have had the greatest effect on mankind: how we hunt, eat, clothe ourselves, travel, communicate, do research, play sports, engage in warfare, sicken, and die. The text concisely and entertainingly places them into context and provides a rationale for their significance. Sidebars offer entertaining details about their special abilities or uses, legends and cultural connections, and challenges to their survival.
The author explains how the natural and human worlds intersect in social, economic, medical, and historical terms. For example, we read of the food and other products we obtain from the honeybee, whale, buffalo, cow, goat, herring, cod, chicken, turkey, rabbit, oyster, and pig. We learn of the clothing we manufacture from the silkworm, beaver, llama, and sheep; the diseases we acquire from the mosquito, leech, louse, and flea; the discoveries we have made courtesy of the fruit fly, finch, iguanodon, chimpanzee, and dodo; and the companionship, transportation, and labor afforded by such animals as the dog, cat, camel, donkey, horse, and elephant.
There are entries on wildlife as diverse as the bat and lion, the cobra and reindeer, the seal and bald eagle, the earthworm and scarab beetle. The book concludes with a chapter on ourselves, the most recent animal to have evolved and the greatest threat to all of the others. A useful list of related readings and websites is also appended.
Each of these volumes is cleverly designed, copiously illustrated, and beautifully bound a la the renowned Dorling-Kindersley books, and each makes a fine, durable resource for family and school libraries. They provide a jumping-off point for further research and an invitation into the perennial game of "what would you have included on or excluded from this list." All of them are great fun to pick up and browse at random or read from cover to cover.