The Big, Bad Book of Beasts: The World’s Most Curious Creatures

Michael Largo. Morrow, $18.99 trade paper (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-208745-4
Like the medieval bestiaries that Largo (Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die) emulates, this book doesn’t limit itself to familiar or even real animals: nestled between aardvarks and zooplankton, you’ll find long-extinct creatures like the jaekelopterus—an ancestor to the scorpion that grew to be eight feet tall—and completely fictional beasts like the half-dog, half-reptile chupacabra. Averaging between two and three pages each, the entries are written in an informal tone and peppered with illustrations and trivia (hamsters, for instance, were once banned from Vietnam, giving rise to an “underground hamster culture”). Reading the book feels like an evening’s jaunt through a particularly engaging version of Wikipedia. Sometimes, though, Largo is able to capture a more elusive and even more enjoyable sensation: that of being a child on that first trip to the zoo—or natural history museum, or the dinosaur section of the library—who isn’t interested in medieval lessons about “daring and sloth, loyalty and cowardice,” nor contemplations on “what makes us essentially human and at the same time so similar to animals.” No, the much simpler thought process that this book should be proud to elicit is just one joyful word: cool! B&w illus throughout. Agent: Frank Weinmann, the Literary Group International. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/18/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
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