cover image ASTONISHING ANIMALS: Extraordinary Creatures and the Fantastic Worlds They Inhabit

ASTONISHING ANIMALS: Extraordinary Creatures and the Fantastic Worlds They Inhabit

Tim Flannery, . . Atlantic Monthly, $29.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-875-0

Flannery, a scientist, museum director and author (The Eternal Frontier ), and Schouten, a Whitney award–winning wildlife painter, team up again (after 2001's A Gap in Nature ) to offer this spectacular look at 97 creatures who "represent, in one way or another, the outer limits of life's progress." (Actually, 96: one of these animals, they tease, is imaginary.) Some, like the deep sea–dwelling hairy sea devil ("every bit as repulsive as its name suggests"), are products of their extreme environments; others, such as the blue bird of paradise, exhibit exceptional efforts at sexual attraction (the male bird dances while hanging upside-down from a branch, pulsing his feathers hypnotically and emitting "an intense, rhythmic buzzing"). Evolutionary pressures have made some very different creatures look remarkably alike, such as the long-beaked echidna (a mammal), the kiwi (a bird) and the mormyrid (a fish), which all feed on a similar diet of worms. There are beauties, such as the two-gram bee hummingbird; oddities, such as the white uakari, whose scarlet, very humanoid face earned it the nickname "the Englishman"; and grotesqueries, such as the Asian giant softshell turtle, which feeds on human corpses thrown into the Ganges River. All are rendered in masterful, full-color illustrations, some of which spill across two pages. Flannery's text is lively and informative, veering easily between droll descriptions and poignant warnings about disappearing habitats. As beautiful as it is fascinating, this book will be relished by animal lovers of all stripes. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Oct.)