The Book of Animal Records is exactly as advertised: hundreds of pages chock-full of impressive animal achievements. Beginning with the mammals that humans recognize and love so well, and continuing through the other major extant animal groups, this book is an impressive repository of facts. Every section begins with a short introduction to a prominent animal order and a description of how many discovered species it contains, followed by a staggering variety of animal record-holders, from the expected “largest” or “smallest” individuals to more obscure tidbits such as “best grip,” “longest toes,” or “most bossy.”
The best part about reading this book is its ability to amaze the reader over and over again at the variety of animal adaptations that evolution has produced. For example, male Dayak fruit bats lactate right along with the females. Nine-banded armadillos always give birth to genetically identical quadruplets. Red kangaroos can jump an astounding horizontal distance of 42 feet in a single bound. Swifts may fly a staggering 300,000 miles before landing for the first time. The northern long-necked turtle actually lays its eggs underwater. And archer fish can spit drops of water to knock insects into their pond, even hitting targets that are in flight! Readers are provided with an impressive catalog of the extraordinary feats that animals are capable of.
Before you worry that the Book of Animal Records is a dry encyclopedia of information, understand that the book is also absolutely beautiful. Color photographs abound, literally on every page. Many of them are half-page or full-page images, remarkable in their clarity and detail. A full-page spread shows a polar bear’s impressive maw close up. Another photo allows the reader to see heart, lungs, and digestive system through the transparent underbelly of a glass frog. And a zoomed-in view of a woodcock’s face clearly shows how this remarkable bird has a 360° field of vision without turning its head! The pictures in this book are many, beautiful, and enlightening. This reviewer couldn’t wait to turn the page so as to enjoy yet another photograph of remarkable animals.
However, the book is not without some flaws. This reader quibbled with a few of the facts as presented. For example, hyenas are stated as the only animal capable of breaking down the organic matter of bones, hooves, hair, and so on. While impressive, hyenas are clearly not the only animals capable of this feat. Many snake species, bearded vultures, and others quickly come to mind. The book states that most birds have a poor sense of smell, with a few impressive exceptions. However, recent research shows that, in fact, many birds use smell to identify individuals, detect predators, find food, and more. The other feature of the book this reader disliked is its organization. Almost half of the book is dedicated to the mammalian orders, while other, much more abundant and diverse groups are given much shorter coverage. Most egregious is lumping together the vast majority of animal species into a single category called “Invertebrates” and then devoting only 50 pages to them all.
Despite a few drawbacks, overall this book is excellent. The records are interesting, the photographs are stunning, and the amount of information packed into this relatively small book is impressive. The Book of Animal Records is an excellent choice for the shelf of any animal enthusiast. It would also be an extremely useful source for students writing research papers about animal biology. If I have a student struggling to choose an interesting organism to research or another who needs just a little more information to improve their report, I will hand them the Book of Animal Records.