Natural History—the Smithsonian on Your Bookshelf

Geek Culture

Natural HistoryNatural History I grew up reading Childcraft and I had a particular interest in the “Green Kingdom” and “About Animals” volumes, with page after page of pictures and stories about plants and animals. This month DK Publishing has released a beautiful tome that brings back that feeling of wonder and delight.

Natural History: The Ultimate Visual Guide to Everything on Earth is kind of like having the Smithsonian Natural History Museum on your bookshelf. There are over 5,000 gorgeous photographs of plants, animals, fungi, rocks and minerals, accompanied by brief descriptions of everything. There are many two-page spreads focusing on a particular item—for instance, the Fly Agaric mushroom (Amanita muscaria), with a red cap and white spots, gets its own spread which gives a lot more details about its growth stages and mentions that it’s the most famous fungus, appearing in children’s book illustrations all over the world. (They don’t mention that it’s the inspiration for Mario’s mushrooms but I wouldn’t be surprised.)

Cuban CrocodileCuban Crocodile

Detail pages for the Cuban Crocodile. Click for larger version. Image: DK Publishing

Each page of life forms also has a handy chart showing phylum, class, orders, families, and species; there are common names and Latin names, average size, and so on. On pages that have a lot of different items, each entry is fairly short, with just a few facts. The photos, though, are the highlight of the book. Page after page of spectacular specimens, usually grouped in their orders (with subdivisions for families), make it easy to spend an afternoon just flipping through Natural History. My daughters and I have had a lot of fun (we spent a lot of time looking at spiders and worms), and it’s even been useful looking up specific things. A book we were reading mentioned frangipani flowers, and since we didn’t know what that was, we looked it up. While I was reading The Search for WondLa, I wanted to see what a tardigrade looked like, and there it was.


Several types of butterflies. Click for larger version. Image: DK Publishing

Natural History doesn’t cover everything, though. If you wanted to know more about a particular species that doesn’t rate a two-page spread, you’ll need to find another resource for more details. There’s only so much you can fit in 650 pages, and Natural History focuses on the visual aspects, which is what the print medium excels at anyway. So while this book won’t preclude visits to What’s That Bug? or Wikipedia, it’s a stunning supplement.

Natural History retails for $50.00.

Wired: Page after page of eye-popping photographs.

Tired: Breadth, but not depth of information.

Disclosure: DK Publishing provided GeekDad with a review copy.

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