1) Crump, Marty. Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder's Fork and Lizard's Leg: The Lore and Mythology of Amphibians and Reptiles. 2015. The University of Chicago Press. Hardbound: 320 pages. Price: $35.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Frogs are worshipped for bringing nourishing rains, but blamed for devastating floods. Turtles are admired for their wisdom and longevity, but ridiculed for their sluggish and cowardly behavior. Snakes are respected for their ability to heal and restore life, but despised as symbols of evil. Lizards are revered as beneficent guardian spirits, but feared as the Devil himself.
In this ode to toads and snakes, newts and tuatara, crocodiles and tortoises, herpetologist and science writer Marty Crump explores folklore across the world and throughout time. From creation myths to trickster tales; from associations with fertility and rebirth to fire and rain; and from the use of herps in folk medicines and magic, as food, pets, and gods, to their roles in literature, visual art, music, and dance, Crump reveals both our love and hatred of amphibians and reptiles—and their perceived power. In a world where we keep home terrariums at the same time that we battle invasive cane toads, and where public attitudes often dictate that the cute and cuddly receive conservation priority over the slimy and venomous, she shows how our complex and conflicting perceptions threaten the conservation of these ecologically vital animals.
Sumptuously illustrated, Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg is a beautiful and enthralling brew of natural history and folklore, sobering science and humor, that leaves us with one irrefutable lesson: love herps. Warts, scales, and all.
RECOMMENDATION: A well illustrated introduction on the subject.
2) Mabey, Richard. The Cabaret of Plants: Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination. 2015. W.W. Norton. Hardbound: 374 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The Cabaret of Plants is a masterful, globe-trotting exploration of the relationship between humans and the kingdom of plants by the renowned naturalist Richard Mabey.
A rich, sweeping, and wonderfully readable work of botanical history, The Cabaret of Plants explores dozens of plant species that for millennia have challenged our imaginations, awoken our wonder, and upturned our ideas about history, science, beauty, and belief. Going back to the beginnings of human history, Mabey shows how flowers, trees, and plants have been central to human experience not just as sources of food and medicine but as objects of worship, actors in creation myths, and symbols of war and peace, life and death.
Writing in a celebrated style that the Economist calls “delightful and casually learned,” Mabey takes readers from the Himalayas to Madagascar to the Amazon to our own backyards. He ranges through the work of writers, artists, and scientists such as da Vinci, Keats, Darwin, and van Gogh and across nearly 40,000 years of human history: Ice Age images of plant life in ancient cave art and the earliest representations of the Garden of Eden; Newton’s apple and gravity, Priestley’s sprig of mint and photosynthesis, and Wordsworth’s daffodils; the history of cultivated plants such as maize, ginseng, and cotton; and the ways the sturdy oak became the symbol of British nationhood and the giant sequoia came to epitomize the spirit of America.
Complemented by dozens of full-color illustrations, The Cabaret of Plants is the magnum opus of a great naturalist and an extraordinary exploration of the deeply intertwined history of humans and the natural world.
RECOMMENDATION: A well received title on the subject.
3) Zimmerman, Dale. Turaco Country: Reminiscences of East African Birding. 2015. Sky Island Press. Hardbound: 783 pages. Price: $82.50 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Dale Zimmerman's singular memoir details a half-century of ornithological investigations in East Africa, at a time when Africa's fabled wildlife and wild habitats flourished beneath the snows of Kilimanjaro. Set against the political backdrop of the shift from colonial to African rule, Turaco Country documents a field ornithologist's quintessentially African experience, capturing the sights, scents and sounds of a vanishing world.
In 1961, Dale Zimmerman set off for Africa, armed with a degree in Botany, years of study of African avifauna, and a keen passion for wild nature. Thus began an adventure that would span a half-century. In the ensuing years, while Dr. Zimmerman was Professor of Biology at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, he continued to explore birdlife on all continents, but always returned to Africa. An acclaimed artist as well as scientist, he co-authored and co-illustrated two field guides, Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania and Birds of New Guinea.
Zimmerman's first step into Africa led to immersion in the misty Kakamega Forest, where he unraveled mysteries surrounding its little-investigated birdlife. Often with his wife Marian (also an ornithologist and a botanist) and young son Allan (later himself a fine naturalist), he found adventure aplenty among the lions, elephants, hornbills, and exquisite turacos.
Generously spiced with photographs taken by the Zimmermans and their friends, Turaco Country sparkles with a life that is uniquely African.
RECOMMENDATION: A very detailed and well illustrated memoir.