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Science  19 Dec 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5909, pp. 1793-1794
DOI: 10.1126/science.322.5909.1793a

Audubon: Early Drawings Richard Rhodes, Scott V. Edwards, and Leslie A. Morris Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2008. Boxed, 292 pp. $125, £92.95, €112.50. ISBN 9780674031029.


These 116 early Audubons from the collections of Harvard University provide a perspective on the development of the artist's mature style. In accordance with established ornithological presentation of the time, most of the birds are stiffly posed in profile with little or no background. Some drawings, however, show their subjects in action [e.g., the whip-poor-will, Caprimulgus vociferus, in flight (1812), right] or include details of diet or habitat—approaches Audubon took to portray specimens as “drawn from Nature” in his monumental The Birds of America. The watercolors and pastels of the European species were executed in France in 1805 and 1806, and those of the North American birds date from 1805 to 1821. The captions discuss when and where Audubon collected the specimens. Morris, Rhodes, and Edwards contribute essays on the history of the drawings, the artist's life, and his science.

Albatross: Their World, Their Ways Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, and Julian Fitter Firefly, Toronto, 2008. 240 pp. $49.95, C$49.95. ISBN 9781554074150. Christopher Helm, London. £35. ISBN 9780713688122.


Renowned for their mastery of marine air and wide-ranging trips over the oceans, albatrosses may spend 95% of their long lives (which can extend beyond 60 years) riding the winds and waves. Being birds, the adults must return to land to nest and hatch the single large egg that they produce every other year. Traveling on a 13-m sailboat, natural history writer-photographers De Roy and Jones observed nearly all the albatross species at breeding sites. De Roy's descriptions of their visits to these usually wild and remote islands and her striking images (below, Thalassarche impavida at its only nesting site, on Campbell Island) fill the first half of the book. A second section presents expert essays on albatross biology and conservation issues. The book concludes with short accounts of each of the 22 species, in which Fitter summarizes taxonomy, identification, population, distribution, breeding, food, and threats.

Nature's Beloved Son: Rediscovering John Muir's Botanical Legacy Bonnie J. Gisel and Stephen J. Joseph (photographer) Heyday, Berkeley, CA, 2008. 280 pp. $45. ISBN 9781597141062.


A plant press was among the few possessions Muir carried on his “thousand-mile walk” from Kentucky to the Gulf of Mexico in the fall of 1867. His collections from that journey have since disappeared, but specimens from earlier trips in Wisconsin, Ontario, and Indiana and later excursions in California, Alaska, and the southern states are now scattered among several herbaria and archives. In this volume, environmental historian Gisel traces the importance of Muir's “eternal fondness for plants” through his life and work. Her text incorporates numerous short samples of his correspondence and writings, and it is enhanced with examples of his field sketches. Joseph's 95 artistic, enhanced digital prints highlight a selection of Muir's botanical specimens (above, bent grass, Agrostis exarata, collected near Yosemite in 1875).

The Buzz About Bees: Biology of a Superorganism Jürgen Tautz; photographs by Helga R. Heilmann; David C. Sandeman, translator Springer, Berlin, 2008. 298 pp. $39.95, £23. ISBN 9783540787273.

Whereas bee colonies were once seen as perfect societies of selfless workers and drones ruled by a queen, Tautz presents them as a self-organized, complex adaptive system that he considers “a mammal in many bodies.” This comprehensive introduction to honeybee biology (originally published as Phänomen Honigbiene) explores such topics as how bees obtain and communicate information about flowers, “whole-animal gametes,” and the comb's contributions to the sociophysiology of the colony. The author has been honored for making research accessible to the public, and his lucid text will reward lay readers, apiarists, students, and professional biologists alike. The book is profusely illustrated with Heilmann's spectacular photos, which capture the full range of bee activities—including some, such as the living chains formed where combs are being built or repaired (bottom left), whose function remains unknown.


A Field Guide to Surreal Botany Janet Chui and Jason Erik Lundberg, Eds. Two Cranes, Singapore, 2008. Paper, 76 pp. $12, Sg$14. ISBN 9789810810177.

With its delicate illustrations, Latin names, notes on ecology and life cycle, and seemingly aged paper, this appears to be an old-fashioned botanical treatise. What makes the imagined species so much fun is the extent of the details, which draw the reader into plausible descriptions that suddenly take a turn to the bizarre. It is hard to pick a favorite, but contenders include the kvetching aspen (the only known tree with a mating cry, which resembles the call of a stilter's jay), the wind melon (which can levitate), the twilight luon-sibir (which has an “abyss-probability” center), and the bone garden (bottom right, also known as Adam's ribcage). The small book is a bit of lunacy sure to appeal to slightly twisted plant lovers.


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