Electronic bestiary

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary, by Caspar Henderson, Granta, RRP£25, 336 pages

Bestiaries stuffed with unusual animals were a feature of the Middle Ages but the underlying wonder they conveyed at the strangeness of the world can be traced back to the Chauvet cave paintings made 30,000 years ago and forward to the present: “From the Wunderkammer [cabinet of curiosities] to the internet is a small step,” writes Caspar Henderson in his enlightening and beautifully produced book, “and the latter – containing virtually everything – is both the servant of science and an everyday electronic bestiary”.

The title plays on Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings (1957) but, rather than fictional creatures, he has filled his bestiary with real oddities. These range from the cute axolotl to the zebrafish, by way of the barrel sponge, the yeti crab and even human beings. Henderson challenges our perception of the natural world, and reminds us of the huge effect we have on our environment.

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