This is an infuriating book. If you want it just for the coffee table it is beyond praise, stuffed with stunning and fascinating pictures of a vast variety of arthropods, including myriapods, arachnids and insects. They are variously colourful, weird, frightening, endearing, agile, streamlined, camouflaged, armoured, bumbling or helpless, adapted to many niches, and generally haunting to the thoughtful viewer and entertaining to the idle time killer.
If what you want is a source book of pictures, this is a most impressive collection. The visuals are of excellent quality and amazing variety. They also are generally well composed and informative to the trained eye. To anyone with a biological background these are impressive virtues. The accompanying text is generally clearly written, cheerful, and sound, though it tends to be rambling and bitty, which is understandable in such a book.
Then what am I complaining about? Most of the attributes I have mentioned so far are beyond price, even in this day of hordes of competitive biological photographers. Heaven knows how many hours it took, of persistence in the face of boredom, illness, discomfort and danger, to accumulate the collection from which this compilation was drawn. What more could I want?
The trouble is that with so little more, without spoiling the book for either the ten-year-old, the browser or the stressed inhabitant of the waiting room, the book could have been a classic. It could have been treasured by generations of biologists, not only entomologists. It draws material from many ecotypes and most of the continents (I am not sure whether I saw anything about the very high latitudes, but in any case one can't have everything.)
But firstly, text falls between stools, and falls with a sickening thud. I don't know who is likely to read it. It is too technical for anyone using this as a picture book, insufficient for anyone trying to pick up much useful information as a layman, and frustrating to any entomologist who seeks serious information about the pictures. Most of the names used are common names. To a non-biologist this might sound like a pretty luke-warm criticism; after all, what is the point of all those Latin and Greek words that pretentious professors use? Plenty! Firstly having a scientific name permits one to look up information about the creature, anywhere in the world and in any language. Common names mean practically nothing, or are actively misleading; the same common name applies to many animals and many common names apply to the same animal, and the common names of one region are so much gobbledegook or directly contradict the use of the same names in other regions, let alone other countries or languages. Then again, many of the so-called common names have been coined by amateur biologists; even in English, they mean no more to the layman than the most obscure Greek or Latin might. Professionals can of course identify most specimens to some useful, informal level, but that leaves the most interesting cases begging. It is the ones you DON'T know that you needed the proper labels for. The book has pictures where I don't even know the family and can't guess it from the text!
In some cases you can guess say, that "darkling beetle" mean Tenebrionid; a few pictures are more helpfully labelled say, Nymphalid while in other cases you just have to take the picture as meaning hardly anything at all. This kind of inconsistency carries over to the index. A book such as this one, which is organised mainly around a number of regions in some chapters, and around biology in others, needs something special in the design of the index. This index is by no means special.
It is not as though the authors believe that no one will buy the book if it contains no scientific names; sometimes they specify them right down to the species. (Mind you, there are a few items where the editors had spectacular finger trouble with the spelling!) When I want anything in this book I most often resort to paging through it! Obviously this reduces its usefulness!
I do hope that the authors will produce a follow-up edition, slightly supplemented. It should not be difficult to tidy up the text and embellish it with a reasonably coherent thread of discussion and much more coherent terminology. I would have no objection if the technical terms were segregated to a table of illustrations or the like. I could cheerfully forgive a few labels that amount to "don't know!" That is simply how things happen in this field. Personally I should love a volume twice the size; these pictures must have been drawn from a collection may times as large and it could do no harm to make the showcase a bit more comprehensive; it would not even scare off the coffee table browser.
What this book needs is either a great deal more text, enough to make it coherent, or a companion volume of text, keyed to the pictures. Alternatively it could be keyed to discussions of each picture, by keying it to such standard a text book as say, Imms' General textbook of Entomology, or possibly some rival classic.
Oh, and I don't like the book's title. "Bugs & Insects" indeed! In civilised speech, bugs are hemipteran. Yes, yes, I know, but I still don't like it! I realise that that is my problem, rather than the authors' but I still, still don't like it. But that is not the basis of my criticism! If the title were my only problem, this review would be a rave, not a whine.
Meanwhile, I seldom take the book off the shelf. The frustration is bad for my blood pressure.