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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
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It has been 30 years since the U.S. publication of the original 13-volume Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia (1972–1975). Bernhard Grzimek served as director of the Frankfurt Zoo for more than 30 years and was also very active in the preservation of animal species in the wild as well as in captivity. In contrast to older works on animals, his encyclopedia, which was first published in Germany in 1967, was more concerned with animal behavior and conservation than with mere descriptions of appearance and habitat. In 1990 McGraw-Hill published a substantial revision of the four volumes of Grzimek’s that dealt with mammals. Not only was the text of Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals greatly updated but the set was graced with 3,000 color photographs that were created using new techniques for underwater, night, and action shots. The original 13-volume Grzimek’s, meanwhile, went out of print. Since 1990 there has been a significant increase in reference materials on animals, in part because of a growing awareness of biodiversity and conservation. But even with this bounty, librarians have been waiting for a new edition of Grzimek’s. Gale has stepped into the breach with a completely revised, 17-volume Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia, of which the four volumes dealing with birds are the first to appear. Additional volumes will be released over the year.
Like its parent set, the new edition of Grzimek’s adheres to a taxonomic arrangement. Following a set of essays on topics such as bird song and migration, material is arranged by class, then by order, then by family. For each family, entries are headed with summary data on details such as size and numbers of genera and species. Following this are standardized sections on evolution, physical characteristics, distribution, habitat, behavior, diet, reproduction, conservation status, and significance to humans. Entries conclude with species accounts that list key facts on selected species and further resources. Distribution maps, approximately 480 color photographs depicting birds in natural settings, and more than 1,300 very attractive illustrations of featured species accompany the text. One slight disappointment is the photographs, which are nice enough but nothing special, especially compared to those in Grzimek’s Encyclopedia of Mammals. Each volume winds up with the same back matter: a bibliography, a list of bird-related organizations, a list of contributors to the first edition of Grzimek’s (some of whom also contributed to the second), a glossary of bird terms, an “Aves Species List,” and an index to all four bird volumes.
Reviews of the first edition of Grzimek’s Animal Life Encyclopedia and of the revised mammal volumes often contained caveats about access. Unless one is familiar with zoological classification, it is not easy to navigate through a taxonomical arrangement, and the indexing did not always help. There are similar frustrations in the new edition. For students, in particular, libraries can offer other, more accessible options for animal research, with entries for individual species arranged A–Z and written in less technical language. Now that we have so many more choices, is there still a place for Grzimek’s on the reference shelves? The answer is yes, especially for larger public and academic libraries. In its second edition, Grzimek’s may no longer be just about the only animal life encyclopedia around, but when it is completed, it will certainly be the most comprehensive.
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