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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary [Hardcover]

Caspar Henderson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

4 Oct 2012
From Axolotl to Zebrafish, meet a world of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often stranger and more astonishing than anything dreamt in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the earth, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizarreness of the many living forms we thought we knew and some we could never have contemplated, and invites us to better imagine the world around us. An extraordinary, vivid combination of natural history, spiritual primer and philosophical meditation, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is a mind-expanding, wonder-inducing read.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (4 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 184708172X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847081728
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16.4 x 4.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,951 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Caspar Henderson lives in Oxford, England. He is a recipient of a Jerwood Award from the Royal Society of Literature and a Roger Deakin Award from the Society of Authors.

Product Description


Eloquent as well as encyclopaedic, witty and warm, Caspar Henderson is the perfect companion for this tour of the strange and beautiful. --Times Literary Supplement

This is a bestiary and it's the loveliest one I ve seen for a while. Caspar Henderson calls it 'a 21st Century Bestiary', and it is - the descriptions of the creatures in question are up-to-date. But the illustrations, by Golbanou Moghaddas, are wonderfully Victorian. Henderson looks at these animals with a sensibility that makes you see them anew. --Evening Standard

It is a glorious celebration of our extraordinary world, presented in a gorgeous volume and exuding wit and charm. --Nature blog

About the Author

Caspar Henderson has been a journalist and editor with various publications and broadcasters, including BBC Radio 4, the Financial Times, the Independent, Nature, New Scientist and openDemocracy ( where he was senior editor for three years). He is a past recipient of an IUCN-Reuters award for best environmental reporting in Western Europe. He co-authored Our Fragile Earth (2005, New Internationalist) and was the commissioning editor for Debating Globalization (2005, Polity).

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who do you think you are? 14 Oct 2012
An enchanting book, wise informative and entertaining. It lures us out of the parochialism of our species into a world of deep time populated by our almost unimaginable ancestors. Henderson leads us into a universe of wonders. Seen in the perspective of hundreds of millions of years, could we be just a little less important than we though we were? And the book is beautifully produced. My only grouse is that the name of the fantastic illustrator, Golbanou Moghaddas, does not appear on the title page.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminated and illuminating 22 Oct 2012
It's appropriate, in the case of Henderson's modern bestiary, that the book is both a thing of beauty and a challenge to our perception of beauty in nature. In an A to Z of some of the weird and wonderful creatures thrown up by the blind processes of evolution, Henderson has managed to turn his own curiosity about nature into a thought-provoking, complex expression of us and the rest of the earth. The breadth of research beggars belief and the use of marginalia to squeeze every ounce of information into the book is a playful and fascinating way of illuminating some of the ideas in the chapters. This is a book of delights to remind us why we should care about our increasingly imperilled planet and its bizarre and beautiful forces of transformation.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars simply extraordinary 17 Jan 2013
By ganga
Caspar Henderson's research is simply extraordinary, such that I found myself Googling creatures just to make sure he wasn't having us on! Indeed, the Googling increased in frequency the more I read, and began to include expert's names. Henderson's erudition is not limited to science as he peppers the text with references to literature, poetry and even popular music. Personally, I found his predilection for quoting witch-accuser (woman killer) Thomas Browne to be annoying, but as this is personal bias, he'll not lose a star.

The book is beautifully designed and illustrated. The latter only adding to the mystery of the creatures described, which I am sure would only have been demeaned by full-colour images. It is really sad that Granta, of whom I would have thought better, decided to provide a faux-hardback binding for this 25 book. Glued spines and card covers are not the way to stem the tide of virtual books.

Rants aside, this is a brilliant work - wholly recommended!!!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thing of beauty 3 Oct 2012
I've only dipped into the text so far, and found it to be delightful - witty and profound by turns; my only very slight criticism is that I feel it could do with a little more darkness amid the generally enchanting descriptions of the animals - Henderson doesn't altogether ignore the fact that animals kill and eat, but it's a touch underplayed in comparison with the lighter aspects of morphology and behaviour. However, as an object, this book really is a thing of beauty, with the text and illustrations wonderfully integrated. It's an intellectual and aesthetic joy.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow 20 Dec 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My grandson aged four is mad keen on the Octonauts - so was delighted to see that this book included octopus, puffer fish and whale amongst many others. The conceit is such a clever one, leading from particular creatures in all directions; it is laid out beautifully and is a joy to read whether section by section or over a longer stretch. It has that nice old-fashioned sense of being a book to handle and treasure over the years. Friederike Huber, the text designer, deserves great credit too, as does Michael Salu, the designer. Certainly the most interesting and best produced book I have read this year. And at 11.25 for over 400 pages it must be a bargain too! The website [...].com will give you a good idea of the book and contains additional material to add to the package.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gorgeous, Factual Bestiary 20 Nov 2012
As if there were not already a extraordinary range of strange animals in the world, the bestiaries of the medieval times included such creatures as barnacle geese growing on trees. In 1967, Jorge Luis Borges brought out _The Book of Imaginary Beings_, which chronicled animals imagined in _Gilgamesh_ and in the works of Kafka. When Caspar Henderson was looking through Borges's book, he realized that there are many real animals that are stranger than fictional ones. He isn't a biologist; he is a journalist and editor, but he realized he wanted to go exploring to find out more about the very strange creatures that evolution has come up with. He has brought out _The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary_ (Granta; to be published in America by the University of Chicago Press in April). This is a handsome book, with lots of whimsical illustrations; it is an abecedarium, with 27 chapters (the letter X which is often shortchanged in such books, here gets an extra chapter) from axolotl to zebra fish. Each chapter starts with an illuminated letter, incorporating something within the chapter. It is full of surprises, and Henderson's enthusiasm and wonder are infectious.

Let me describe just the first chapter on the axolotl, whose name we Americans who are old enough first encountered as one of Harvey Kurtzman's non sequitur running gags in _Mad Magazine_. The weird word refers to a weird little animal, a salamander with pink skin, arms with fingers and legs with toes, gills that branch out from its neck, and an oversized spheroid head with a fixed, placid smile. Henderson writes, "Axolotls have this advantage over many other species in a human-dominated world: many people find them cute." They are popular for the home aquarium trade.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 29 days ago by djwmps
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read
Stuffed full of facts this is an entertaining read but I occasionally found myself bogged down with the wordiness of it. Read more
Published 5 months ago by H. White
3.0 out of 5 stars Great material, badly produced book - so get it on Kindle
Fun to read - see the other reviews. For reading 1 chapter at a time, or less. But a poor-quality paperback - the type is too small, and the margins, over an inch wide, are on... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jamie Wood
5.0 out of 5 stars gift for my sister
As it was a gift I can't really comment, but it was what my sister asked for so I presume she likes it.
Published 6 months ago by M. C. Panciroli
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye opener
...why mankind is so small in the bigness of it all. Superb,witty,fascinating. Highly recommend. Enjoy.......again and again. Look forward to
Published 7 months ago by M. R. Roper
5.0 out of 5 stars a smorgasbord of food for thought
what sort of a magpie mind can collate, ruminate and range over so much fascinating information, with lightness and humour, yet convey such wisdom and warning abut the way we treat... Read more
Published 10 months ago by RT
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of primordial soup
I didn't enjoy this book. But I'm prepared to accept that I should have done my homework before buying it, and indeed "Bestiary" should have been a heads-up. Read more
Published 12 months ago by G. Gilpin
5.0 out of 5 stars Barely Imagined
Have not read it yet, but browsed through and liked the prose. Very uplifting. Looking forward to reading it in the fall when Gardens take less time..
Published 13 months ago by Phyllis Breeden
5.0 out of 5 stars Such a good read
This book is exactly as i thought it would be- so interested to read and the layout was engaging which helps. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Samantha
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing.
An astonishing book, beautifully produced, a rivetting read. I would have liked a few more and bigger illustrations but the relatively small format prevents that. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Queen Mab
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