Bison, Swallow, and Skunk are three of the latest additions to Reakton Books’ “Animal” series, which stretches from A to (approximately) Z. From Albatross, Ant, and Ape to Walrus, Whale, and Wolf – and many in between – this series offers appealing overviews of 75 individual vertebrate and invertebrate animals. Each book presents a holistic view of its subject animal, including history, natural history, art, economics, and mythology. Short, well-illustrated, and appealing, the books in this series allow readers to understand each animal from a far broader perspective than biology.
Thus, in Skunk, for example, we learn about such diverse topics as skunk natural history (“true to their independent natures, skunks are polygamous and do not form enduring romantic relationships), skunks in history (such as the dozens of “fully-equipped specimens” kept by “The Skunk Woman,” Chrissy Hand), skunks in Native American lore, and the current culture of wildlife rescue and skunk shows. Swallow, fittingly given its graceful topic, charms the reader with descriptions and depictions (ranging from classical sculpture to Johnny Depp's swallow tattoo in Pirates of the Caribbean) of these lovely harbingers of spring. Finally, Bison presents both the American and European history of this mighty herbivore and explores topics such as bison as food, in emblems and visual images, and as companions (the remarkable cowboy Ronald Bridges is pictured in his house with his 2400 lb. pet bison “Wildthing”). Each volume is completed with a timeline and extensive index.
While far from the most thorough sources of biological information about each of these animals, these books remind the reader that no organism exists in a vacuum. Readers looking for detailed information about biology, ecology, and evolution should look elsewhere. However, the strength of this series lies in its emphasis on the interplay of the animal's biology with its environment, human history, and current society. Thus, these volumes can be valuable additions to the science library, reminding the reader to look beyond the narrow bounds of any one topic area. Just as with the skunk, swallow, and bison, science's influences on human art, history, and interpretation continue to develop as the future unfolds.
ELIZABETH COWLES teaches introductory biology, biochemistry, and entomology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She has taught at the undergraduate and graduate college levels for over 20 years. Her interests include insect toxicology, protein characterization, and astrobiology. Cowles holds degrees in biology and biochemistry from Cornell University and Michigan State University. Her address is Department of Biology, ECSU, 83 Windham St., Willimantic, CT 06226; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.