Monday, August 5, 2013

W31: Wood’s Natural History

With an exceptional lightness, this week’s Biblio-Mat offering was a fast and entertaining read as it was a study on the study of the evolution of natural history.

Aging un-gracefully. Both inside and out.
Printed in 1912, Wood’s Natural History was interesting in that it was published long after the author, Rev. John George Wood, had died, yet it did not appear to have been updated or edited since the initial creation of the piece. Also, it was a relief that Wood is the author's name and I did not receive a book documenting the growth of lumber as was first presumed.

The book itself was a well-aged and stained crimson clothbound hardcover that was surprisingly light. Measuring 12cm x 18cm x 2.5cm, it weighed less than a granola bar. Much of this probably had to do with the fact that the 144 pages were printed on incredibly cheap acidic paper. Barely a century old and it was already crumbling on the slightest page turns – a reflection of the knowledge contained within.

Prehistoric? Straight up 90's Grunge, I say.
I grew up reading a lot about nature and animals as they’ve always fascinated me in being reflections of the exoticism of the distant reaches of our planet. Wood’s Natural History was written with the same scope of sensationalism and wonderment, but after the first twenty pages it was obvious the information was horrendously outdated. On the plus side, though, there were bountiful illustrations accompanying almost every page that made for a fun game of guessing which animals the artist had actually seen before.

Dolphins: only seen in nightmares.
Starting with quadrumana, the now obsolete classification of primates with four hands, and moving to carnivores to quadrupeds to rodents to water mammals then to birds, the book presented quick snippets of facts and observations into various species of animals that appear to be half grounded in research and half in hypothetical explanations based on what someone saw somewhere some time ago. Some of the information, such as there being only one species of Hippopotamuses, could be forgiven as old world ignorance, but other “facts”, such as Polecats sucking the blood of its victims and only eating brains, made for a lot of entertaining passages.

The descriptions themselves were a mess of stitched together entries that ran into each other. The book was broken up into the different categories of land mammals, water mammals, and birds, however, there were no breaks inside these sections. Three paragraphs on Otters were followed directly by a paragraph on Brown Bears without as much as a line break. This made paying close attention to what one read paramount as if you didn’t catch the switch in animal, you’d be wondering why Sloths were trying to survive winter by eating eels and frogs while spraying predators with their glandular excrement.

Stranded out of water? Oh the hu-manatee!
Another issue with the descriptions was that they were disproportionate. Some animals, like the Skunk, had a page and a half of information about their living habits and their uses while other animals, like the Weasel, had a literal two lines of description - “The Weasel is the least of this tribe. It wages unrelenting war on rats and mice.”

Did this really need a page and a half?
The best aspect of the book, though, was that it was written by a Reverend for children to learn about the various types of animal out in our magnificent world, and every other animal entry talked about how one goes about killing said animal and what happens when they die. Among the things I’ve learned:

- Orang-outans climb trees and build a nest to die in when they’re mortally shot.
- Hunting Tigers on elephant back is hard so pitfall traps are ideal.
- Spider Monkeys will still hang upside down by their tails when killed.
- You can shoot Elephants multiple times in the head and they still won’t die.
- When you kill a Sperm Whale, make sure to extract the precious spermaceti and ambergris inside their cranial chamber. (However, the book does not offer an explanation of what spermaceti or ambergris actually was.)

At least lil Cora Rice will know to aim for the eyes while taking a shot.
It was definitely an enlightening read, but for a different reason than originally intended. As a book on natural history, it actually gave more insight into the history of natural history. Who knows, maybe in a hundred years the future generations will look back on the cutting edge texts of today and wonder how we ever believed the outdated information we were given now.

Probably not, though.

Book rating: 7.5/10 (Unintentional humour is the best kind)

Random quote: “When he is young it is quite small. As he gets older it grows bigger. And by the time that he reaches his full size it is three or four inches long. Naturally this long nose gives him a very strange appearance.” (But only when he’s excited)

11 comments:

  1. on the random quote: who is he? Or what I am asking--what critter was the quote describing just for reference.

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