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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary by [Henderson, Caspar]
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The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Review

In this utterly charming fusion of science and navel-gazing, one discovers creatures that seem to belong to the outer limits of human imagination--including, somewhat surprisingly, humans. There aren't words to describe how beautiful this volume is, or the feelings it evokes. Stunning. --Booksmith

This is much more than a basic bestiary. --Pick of the Paperbacks, The Sunday Times

This is not just a beautiful book - it is an important one. ***** --Independent on Sunday

This extraordinary and exotic book is a hugely important work. Superficially, it can be enjoyed as an expose of the many weird and wonderful creatures we share our planet with. But it is also a profound journey during which we have opportunities to speculate on the much bigger questions: the origins of life, the purpose of consciousness, the destiny of technology and the prospects for human existence beyond our biosphere. --Ecohustler

This is not just a beautiful book - it is an important one. ***** --Independent on Sunday

The real is often more wondrous than the imaginary. So it proves with Caspar Henderson's beautifully conjured world of barely imagined beings - ranging from the amazing jumping spider to Venus's Girdle, an ancient comb jelly - out now in paperback. --'Best Science Books', New Statesman

Henderson jumps smoothly from scientific information to history to fiction to anecdote and uses each creature as a window into the human mission to understand and interpret the world. There is something lovely about a book that takes on so many disciplines and tackles them with confidence. Henderson presents us with something that stays in the memory long after the book is put back on the shelf. --Guardian

A series of Montaignesque essays that celebrate the diversity of life while at the same time journeying through the cultural and technological landscape of humanity's achievements - and threats we make on the planet. --'Best Books of the Year', Scotsman

Henderson jumps smoothly from scientific information to history to fiction to anecdote and uses each creature as a window into the human mission to understand and interpret the world. There is something lovely about a book that takes on so many disciplines and tackles them with confidence. Henderson presents us with something that stays in the memory long after the book is put back on the shelf. --Guardian

'A glorious A-Z of natural oddities' --Independent

'Caspar Henderson's great bestiary, this book of barely imagined beings, which has recently come out - where growth, and astonishment, and wonder, and effervescence are wildly reconfigured as kinds of virtue' --Robert MacFarlane discusses The Book of Barely Imagined Beings on the Orion Magazine Podcast

'The most beautiful publication I have read in many years. Caspar is a writer of extreme charm, wit and intelligence. The scale of Caspar's ambition is as remarkable as the depth of his reading. Caspar perfectly judged the digression coefficient to keep us on track, though we remain always interested in what sweet madness may be around the corner. His writing is funny and wise' --Hugh Warick, Resurgence and Ecologist

'Caspar Henderson's great bestiary, this book of barely imagined beings, which has recently come out - where growth, and astonishment, and wonder, and effervescence are wildly reconfigured as kinds of virtue' --Robert MacFarlane discusses The Book of Barely Imagined Beings on the Orion Magazine Podcast

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).

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 30688 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books (11 Oct. 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B009PK4OXA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #116,439 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
'..stegosaurus, snake and salamander, cow, capybara and coati'
Am enchanting mine of recherché and recondite knowledge lent the allure of fantasy, a learned, lucid and beautiful abecedary of curious creatures that seemingly effortlessly fuses science with poetry. The countless humans cited (as fascinating in their way as, if not even more so than, the semi-fabulous beasts they ponder) remind us that there is so creature on earth so curious, so utterly confounding as man: in Thomas Browne's words 'there is all Africa, and her prodigies in us'. The 22-page bibliography is as eclectic as you could wish, the exceptionally conscientious (or devoted) indexer, David Atkinson, deserves his credit and the work of designer Friederike Huber speaks for itself
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. Hence the (generous to my mind) three stars. I agree that it is nicely put together and the asides in the margins work well. The artistry is skillful and entirely appropriate for a Bestiary.

I suppose I was expecting something more factual, technical, scientific. Instead I got what are really 27 essays (for some reason there are two Xs) with each animal providing an introduction to the subject, eg: Axolotl - phylogeny and tissue regeneration; Gonodactylus - eyes; Mystaceus - human memory; Quetzalcoatlus - flight; Waterbear - extreme survival.

Some statements I had real trouble with: I can't believe that earthworms really demonstrate "significant powers of reason" (Flatworms); the North Pacific gyre "twice the size of Texas" cannot be "entirely covered in pieces of floating plastic" (Sea Butterfly); I'm not sure that Australian surfers would agree that sharks "only threaten us when we behave foolishly" (Unicorn). Others are plain wrong: the nearest copy of you in the multiverse is not 10^128 metres away, but 2^10^128 metres away (~10^10^128 metres), a distance inconceivably greater (Iridogorgia); an octillion is not 10^27 billion (Sea Butterfly); 20mm is not 1/8th inch (Venus's Girdle).

A previous reviewer had to consult the web to make sure that he/she wasn't being led up the garden path. I felt the same: the Moray eel's "Alien" pharyngeal jaw; the goblin shark's proboscis, to name two. But in a sense this might be the problem: if the style suits the material and the reader has confidence in the author we wouldn't feel a need to check up.
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