Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Book Review: "The Boilerplate Rhino"

A selection of David Quammen's essays from Outside, The Boilerplate Rhino: Nature in the Eye of the Beholder is a nicely-written, often humorous compilation of popular natural history writing at its best. Quammen has a knack for interesting connections and off-the-beaten-path finds which, combined with his quick wit and thought-provoking style make for a great read all around.

I enjoyed each of the twenty-five pieces, from Quammen's musings on durian fruit to the conundrums of just why there are so many different sorts of beetle and just what the heck is a slime mold, exactly. He seems just as much at home discussing Albrecht Dürer's rhinoceros as Thoreau's Walden or Percival Lowell's mythical Martian canals or Guamanian cuisine (which, apparently, includes fruit bats).

Further reading ideas are given for each essay, which is always appreciated, and Quammen's bibliographic disclaimer made me laugh out loud (not for the first time in the book): "Since this bibliography is intended primarily as a guide to your further reading and a way of giving credit to other authors where credit is due, rather than as a manifest of my (amateurish and risible) scholarship, I have refrained from ferreting out and supplying all that first-edition information. Also, there's the fact that it would have made me crazy" (pg. 257). Personally, I (and, I suspect, others) actually prefer knowing which particular edition of a work a writer used.

Along with Quammen's other books, I recommend this one, whether for an occasional dip or a concerted full read.