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30-Second Zoology - Mark Fellowes (Ed.) ***

Zoology (as distinct from biology) was one of those sciences that was always most in danger of suffering from Rutherford's old taunt along the lines of 'all science is either physics or stamp collecting' - consisting as it largely seemed to do for a number of centuries of simply cataloguing animals and their behaviour. However, like all the sciences it has evolved, and as someone with very little background in zoology apart from visiting the odd zoo, it was interesting to get this overview of what today's zoology entails.

Inevitably the introductory section (origin and evolution) has a fair amount that is more generally biological in feel (for example, with spreads on genes and natural selection). We then move on to separate sections on invertebrates and vertebrates, handling quite broad groups (mammals, for example, get a single entry), then broader topics of physiology and behaviour, before moving onto perhaps the most interesting sections on ecology and on conservation and extinction. I was interested in the 'ecology' section to find an article on keystone species, which elsewhere I'd recently read was a rather outdated concept - but interesting nonetheless.

I'll be honest, the format is one I've never really understood. I like words with the odd picture to explain something that words struggle to highlight - but in this series half the pages are taken up with large illustrations, more decorative than informative, and even the text is broken into tight, bite-sized chunks. This makes it a handy kind of book to read on the train, perhaps (though the large format mitigates against this). I'm also not overly fond of multi-author books, though Mark Fellowes, the editor has done a good job of pulling together the various articles and making them feel like a whole.

Interesting, then, and something I might browse through in a library or bookshop... but not my favourite style of book. Although not addressed to children, perhaps ideal for a teenager who is developing a first interest in the subject.

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Review by Brian Clegg


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