ATLAS OF EUROPEAN BIRDS. By K. H. Voous. 355 plates. 419 maps. 284 pp. Nelson. £3 10s.
PROFESSOR Voous is Deputy Director of the Zoological Museum at Amsterdam University and Professor of Zoogeography at the Free University, Amsterdam. Introducing him in a short preface, Sir A. Landsborough Thompson (until recently President of the Ornithologists’ Union and of the London Zoological Society) remarks on his international renown as an ornithologist, and on his ‘valuable presentation of data’ in this atlas. This applies specially to the maps, one for each species of bird native to Europe, ‘showing its breeding range, not only within the continent but extra-limitally as well’. The text, as he says, gives, ‘species by species, information supplementing that shown on the maps; it is all from a geographical point of view, but it is noteworthy how much of the bird’s biology that brings in.’ The plan of the atlas is to put text and plates side by side, followed by a group of world maps indicating with tinted areas the range of the species described and photographed. Story, picture and map each contribute to the revelation, which includes facts, such as the ‘faunal type’ to which species belong, the climatic zones that limit breeding range, habitat and adaptation of species, food and nesting requirements and habits, and migration. The underlying causes of changes in distribution patterns, and the ecology of the species within the distribution range are also considered.
The reader has to realize, first, that the purpose of the distribution maps is exclusively to provide an insight into the zoogeographical problems connected with the different species. They must be used in conjunction with the text which they are intended to complement. Secondly, that the text does not supply encyclopaedic data. ‘It is rather directed towards the comparison of one species with another and towards the general aim of the work—insight into the problems surrounding the various species and the position of each within its range.’ Thirdly, that the photographs are not for the purpose of recognition of species nor merely for aesthetic decoration. ‘Where possible they show each species in its characteristic haunts.’ Nevertheless they are remarkable for excellence in photography and reproduction and for the natural, lively—and often lovely—appearance of individual birds.
The format and arrangement of this large, scholarly work are in themselves inviting. One is the more eagerly lured to study the private lives of these common and uncommon Europeans.
TO THE EAST A PHOENIX. By Nigel
Cameron. 30 illustrations from photographs by
Brian Brake. 4 maps. 207 pp. Hutchinson. 30s. MR CAMERON’S first book, The Chinese Smile, was acclaimed and this, his second, is likely to be equally fortunate. Geographically it covers much more ground, starting at the Hadhramaut, and leading on to Kashmir, Ceylon, Singapore and Malaya, Hong Kong and Fiji. To enjoy it fully one must not be put off by a somewhat mannered style and a trick that strikes one at first as rather tiresome: the creation of an alter ego, an `imaginary traveller’, who ‘remained a sort of ambulant lay figure’, with whom throughout the journey described he argued to purge his mind and clear his impressions. Those impressions are, it is true, reproduced with admirable clarity, so that he keeps one in step with him, in sympathy and anticipation. The power to do this is a valuable ingredient in any travel book.
The world that so excited him as he came new to it is one frequently visited by travellers and as frequently the subject of their books. Mr Cameron’s account of it is distinguished by originality and individuality. The Hadhramaut for him was an exclusively male sphere: it takes a woman to penetrate purdah restrictions and find the true balance by getting into people’s homes. He conveys the feeling of the place, the heat and the hardships, the role of air communication and transport in revolutionizing a way of life and the personality of rulers and ruled. He was fascinated by the Bedouin and their camels; blue-black men, `their naturally dark skin smeared with a mixture of indigo and sesame oil so that when you shake hands with them or rub past them you are stained too.’ He saw the son of a sheikh making use of an ‘Arab’s chair’: a circular woven band which he placed round the back of his shoulders and behind his knees so that he could lean back, supported. In Kashmir he despised the mountains—`there is probably nothing more boring in the world than the prolonged contemplation of mountains. Especially those which are snow-capped’—but the lakes, gardens and houseboats delighted him. Ceylon he already knew well and his return was `like coming to the house of friends’. He revisited ruins and tea estates and dwelt on the old glories of Kandy and the sacred relics of Buddhism. At all stages as he travelled on he gathered honey.
Mr Brake’s photographs, grouped at the end, are excellent, expertly composed and faithful to the text. The book is exceptionally well produced and printed. The Sea
A BIOGRAPHY OF THE SEA. By Richard Carrington. Illustrated. 286 pp. Chatto & Windus. 30s.
How comfortably wise Mr Carrington makes one feel! He handles here fundamental facts, so far as they are known, about the sea as the cradle of life, and he does so in such a WhENthat he glues
one to his pages. The lucidity of his manner and the marshalling of his matter give clarity to quite abstruse theories on the origin and development of sun, moon, and earth, land-forms and sea mechanism. His explanations of the seasonal effect of the moon on tides, of the cause and motion ohowaves and similar phenomena could be understood by a child.
Records published in recent years by underwater explorers who have described and photographed what they found have to a certain degree familiarized us with life in deep seas and on the ocean bed. That familiarity is taken several stages further by Mr Carrington’s survey of causal factors and conditions, which, as he hoped it would, increases our wonder at ‘the principles that govern the great drama of ocean life’. As he proceeds from chemical rudiments to the teeming plant and animal life to which they gave rise, he constantrefers to his sources of information. Incideno see among them The Ocean, that early Victorian book by Philip Gosse whose son Edmund immortalized him in Father and Son.Zeiss.
Having presented sea organisms, including microbes, reptiles, mammals and birds, in their proper classification of habitat and family relationships, Mr Carrington turns to man’s discovery of the oceans in the days of the early navigators and since. He quotes William Beebe as a pioneer among those who used diving contraptions purely for observation and describes recent progress made in this form of marine research, which is becoming increasingly important. The latest and, it seems, the greatest modern invention is the completely free-ranging bathyscaphe.
THE FIRST OF TREES. By Robert Standish. Decorations by Raymond Piper. 108 pp. Phoenix House. 12s. 6d.
WHEN the author, a novelist, discovered how little certainty there is about the origins of the cultivated olive tree, he decided to investigate and this charming little book is the result.
He can do no more than speculate on the olive’s ‘dim beginnings’ but he does so resourcefully. He is inclined to attribute to the Semitic peoples ‘the honour of having brought this primate of trees from the wild to the cultivated state’, and his reasons for so doing are elaborately stated. Another unresolved question which he develops with equal ingenuity—though he cannot positively answer it—is: are olives good for you? The trail of thought he follows leads him into numerous Mediterranean byways, where he moves leisurely through olive orchards and other such scenes of enchantment, weaving his theories, amusing on the benefits and the poetry that this first of trees has brought to those who have come to know and love it.