The Book of Barely Imagined Beings
November 9, 2019 9:16 AM - by Caspar Henderson - Subscribe

From medieval bestiaries to Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings, we’ve long been enchanted by extraordinary animals, be they terrifying three-headed dogs or asps impervious to a snake charmer’s song. But bestiaries are more than just zany zoology—they are artful attempts to convey broader beliefs about human beings and the natural order. Today, we no longer fear sea monsters or banshees. But from the infamous honey badger to the giant squid, animals continue to captivate us with the things they can do and the things they cannot, what we know about them and what we don’t.

With The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson offers readers a fascinating, beautifully produced modern-day menagerie. But whereas medieval bestiaries were often based on folklore and myth, the creatures that abound in Henderson’s book—from the axolotl to the zebrafish—are, with one exception, very much with us, albeit sometimes in depleted numbers. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings transports readers to a world of real creatures that seem as if they should be made up—that are somehow more astonishing than anything we might have imagined. The yeti crab, for example, uses its furry claws to farm the bacteria on which it feeds. The waterbear, meanwhile, is among nature’s “extreme survivors,” able to withstand a week unprotected in outer space. These and other strange and surprising species invite readers to reflect on what we value—or fail to value—and what we might change.

A powerful combination of wit, cutting-edge natural history, and philosophical meditation, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is an infectious and inspiring celebration of the sheer ingenuity and variety of life in a time of crisis and change.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (1 comment total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I first picked up this book three years ago in a library, read the first chapter- and then put it back as I realized I had to own this book so I could take time with it. I bought a hardcover- and it ended up on my shelves as a pretty book I hadn’t read because I had others to read and surgeries to have. Well. This book is incredible and if you can’t buy it I highly recommend checking out the hard copy rather then an e-book because this is a book that makes subtle and not so subtle use of marginalia. There are footnotes in red all along the sides of the text and it is gorgeous. This is a book that is only sort of about its subjects, it’s also a philosophical text about life and it’s one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s a meditation on the real life creatures we share our world with and how real life is odder then any medieval bestiary. It’s also about how climate change may rob us of that wonder. This is a great book.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:21 AM on November 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

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