There are books that are a struggle to get through, books that are forgotten the moment the last page is read. There are the rare books that you may read cover-to-cover multiple times. There’s another class of books that to me truly fit under the category of “coffee table book”, books that you will occasionally pick up and casually browse through.
“The World’s Rarest Birds” by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still, squarely fits in the last category. The World’s Rarest Birds is a follow on project to the “Rare Birds Yearbooks“, publications that highlighted the 190 most threatened birds in the world, those considered to be “critically endangered”. The World’s Rarest Birds is an effort to expand on the idea of the Rare Birds Yearbooks. The book is based on the periodic assessments by BirdLife International and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), assessments that provide summaries of the world’s bird species and their conservation status. This book highlights critically endangered and endangered species from the May 2012 assessment, as well as a number of species whose status is poorly known, for a total of just over 600 species.
The book’s format is very straightforward, with introductory segments that talk about the concept of the book and the specific threats faced by bird species. The majority of the book, however, is devoted to “regional directories”, sections devoted to summaries of endangered bird species from each of the continents and Oceania. Each species has a paragraph that describes the species, its range, and conservation threats. Distribution maps are included for each species, and most of the species have corresponding photographs.
And what photographs they are! As a bird photographer, I can certainly appreciate a good bird photograph, and understand the tremendous effort that must go into capturing high-quality photos of the world’s rarest bird species. The book is a true delight to page through, with the small photos accompanying most of the species accounts interspersed with large, gorgeous, full- or partial-page photographs.
This isn’t a book that you’ll sit down with and read cover-to-cover. While the regional presentation does attempt to help maintain a semblance of a “story” to the book, it does indeed fit the category of “coffee table book”, one that you’ll keep in a handy spot and reference from time to time, a book you can page through and enjoy with a cup of coffee or while you watch TV. The World’s Rarest Birds is book you’ll be glad to own, particularly if you have an interest in bird conservation and enjoy high-quality nature photography.