Top critical review
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Odd but charming
on 4 August 2011
This book is part of a series of ID guides, and follows the same format. However, what worked well for wild flowers or insects doesn't make quite such a neat fit here. First of all, what is an "animal" for the purposes of the title? The book starts with all the native and wild, introduced mammals (such as red squirrels, muntjac deer and mink) including bats. This is followed by amphibians and reptiles.
After this there is a 12-page section on "fieldcraft" - tracks and signs, that sort of thing. Suddenly there is a change of tack and we encounter a section on breeds of farm animals - including birds - followed by pages on breeds of dogs, and then horses. After this, the book reverts back to "How to see and study animals", including for instance how to preserve footprints - surely more appropriately printed next to the bit on tracks several sections before.
There are, throughout the book, comparison sheets so you can see closely related animals side by side, the better to work out which one you've seen. There are biological mini-essays - one on deer shedding their antlers, one on "The woodland floor at night" - you get the idea. Some of these work very well, such as the one on badgers and their setts; with others, the authors seem at times to find it a bit of a strain to know what to say.
This book suffers from muddled ideas on what it is for, and how people will use it. Reader's Digest clearly wanted to produce a book which is 'uniform' with the books on wild flowers, birds and so on, and the subject doesn't conveniently fit because there are so many more birds or butterflies than there are "animals", and because we see mammals or reptiles and amphibians far more rarely. I feel that Reader's Digest could have produced a simpler, clearly laid out book on wild animals, filling up the space with the natural history aspects. They could then, if they wished, have produced a whole separate book on farms and farming, which would have worked nicely on its own.
However, apart from these problems it is a very interesting and informative book suitable for adults or older children, especially for families wildlife-watching together.