Animalium

Is it a book? Is it a catalogue? It’s a museum! Get past the beautifully solid cover of Animalium and step into an old-style Natural History gallery. There are no photos, no infographics, no flaps, just gorgeous, detailed illustrations of dozens of species. Following the ‘Tree of Life’ as roadmap, the tour takes you through the main steps of evolution from the earliest, simplest invertebrates to the more complex organisms that make up groups such as reptiles or mammals. Reading in the proper order is important, as the clear, concise text builds up on the previous chapter, just as new species, new adaptations take up where their predecessors left off. Each double-spread is dedicated to a group, with a general introduction, a ‘plate’ showing various members of that group and a key to the illustrations where each species is presented in a few striking details. The well-chosen snippets of information give a good idea of the richness of Earth’s biodiversity. ‘Curating’ a selection always means sacrifices. It means leaving species out (understandably); but also, occasionally, some information (what is the difference is between turtles and tortoises? and what is a spiracle?). A glossary would have been a useful addition. In terms of image, it means sacrificing scale in order to give each species the same detailed treatment. This isn’t a book for the novice amateur, as some of the biological concepts and terms will be out of reach of younger readers. The muted illustration style and the quiet, ordered design won’t be to everybody’s taste. That said, with very high production value and fascinating content, this is one to visit again and again.