The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary (Paperback)

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What's the real cost of shrinking biodiversity? For Henderson, it's the annihilation of mystery and wonder. We know so little about even some of the most studied species on our planet that they might as well be mythical. Starting with a real creature, each chapter spirals into a blend of natural history and philosophy, delving into subjects like the evolution of vision and the nature of memory and illusions. Endlessly rich and compassionate, with hundreds of margin-notes and allusions to literature.

Picked by Julian in Prospect Lefferts Gardens

— From Staff Picks


From medieval bestiaries to Borges's Book of Imaginary Beings, we've long been enchanted by extraordinary animals, be they terrifying three-headed dogs or asps impervious to a snake charmer's song. But bestiaries are more than just zany zoology--they are artful attempts to convey broader beliefs about human beings and the natural order. Today, we no longer fear sea monsters or banshees. But from the infamous honey badger to the giant squid, animals continue to captivate us with the things they can do and the things they cannot, what we know about them and what we don't.
With The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson offers readers a fascinating, beautifully produced modern-day menagerie. But whereas medieval bestiaries were often based on folklore and myth, the creatures that abound in Henderson's book--from the axolotl to the zebrafish--are, with one exception, very much with us, albeit sometimes in depleted numbers. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings transports readers to a world of real creatures that seem as if they should be made up--that are somehow more astonishing than anything we might have imagined. The yeti crab, for example, uses its furry claws to farm the bacteria on which it feeds. The waterbear, meanwhile, is among nature's "extreme survivors," able to withstand a week unprotected in outer space. These and other strange and surprising species invite readers to reflect on what we value--or fail to value--and what we might change.
A powerful combination of wit, cutting-edge natural history, and philosophical meditation, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is an infectious and inspiring celebration of the sheer ingenuity and variety of life in a time of crisis and change.

About the Author

Caspar Henderson is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Independent, and New Scientist. He lives in Oxford, UK.
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226213200
ISBN-10: 022621320X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: November 10th, 2014
Pages: 427
Language: English