Publisher: Oxford University Press Date of Publication: 2005
Price: £ 30 ISBN: 0 19 280674 2
Pages: vii + 306 Format: Hardback

Overall Score:

Target Readership Sen Secondary For help with criteria, click here


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1 - Aquatic invertebrates; 2 - Fishes.



This book is part of a series of encyclopedias dealing with a range of natural history topics from mammals to oceans. Here, the topic is underwater life which covers both fresh and sea water in terms of ecosystems but is restricted to fish and invertebrates in terms of species. Although this might seem restricting there's plenty of detail to keep the reader occupied.

The text is colour-coded into the two main sections starting with Protozoa. The first few pages outline the development and key features of the organisms and gives a range of examples showing diversity of form. The examples then move on to sponges, corals, worms, crabs, molluscs and echinoderms and others. With each group of animals there's a common set of details. A simple 'factfile' highlights distribution, fossil record and key families/orders. Often there's an explanation of biology and ecology along with any unusual developmental features and their crucial importance to humans etc. Part two continues in a similar vein only with fish as the topic. The range of orders is equally impressive with examples drawn from jawless, cartilaginous and ray-finned fishes.

This is one text that's difficult to review. On the one hand the range of orders mentioned is so large as to make a review look like a list; on the other hand the reader knows that there's still more. Perhaps the value of the book lies in the market it is aimed at. This is not a standard reference guide to fish or invertebrates - there are gaps in coverage and even orders mentioned only have one or two species represented. Nor is this an identification guide - scales are not shown and to highlight the diversity of life , images are both enlarged and reduced to fit into the book format. What we do have though is a beautifully produced book introducing the beginner to the diversity of life. What stands out most in the book are not the descriptions and other writings (although these are good and wide ranging in scope) but the beautifully reproduced photographs. The clarity of detail is stunning and the full-colour treatment makes the book a visual delight. Any casual reader would be hooked on the quality of production and it's here that the book has value - once taken by the pictures the reader would notice the quality of information that goes with it. Anyone wanting to enthuse students about aquatic life should use this book - it's a great addition to the library.


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