on April 21, 2004
This book is not an encyclopediac treatment of snakes, but rather a natural history of some of the 2,700 species of snakes that are currently recognized. Eight chapters are devoted to general topics in snake biology, including anatomy, feeding, venoms (more snakes are venomous than we used to think), predation and defense, social behavior, reproduction, evolution, and conservation.
The illustrations supplied by world-acclaimed nature photographers Michael and Patricia Fogden are absolutely gorgeous---snakes in every aspect of their dangerous, seductive charm, including my favorite of Peringuey's Adder in Namibia. This snake's tail protrudes above the sand as a lure, and if you look very closely at the picture, you might make out eyes and head scales that are almost completely invisible between the grains of sand. It is quite startling to be looking at a pile of sand and suddenly see the outline of an adder's head.
The author, Harry W. Greene is Curator of Herpetology in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology and Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. He opens each chapter in 'Snakes' with an essay that considers the subject from a more personal perspective: many of his fellow herpetologists have been bitten by venomous snakes, and some have died. The essays lead to Greene's epilogue and his answer to the question, "Why snakes?"
This book is a fascinating read. I sat down to learn more about garter snakes when I came across several of these handsome reptiles that were just emerging from hibernation. I soon found myself rereading the whole book. There are fourteen references in the index to 'Thamnophis sirtalis' (the common garter snake) but they are scattered throughout the book in interesting chapters such as "Diet and Feeding." I didn't know garter snakes were semi-aquatic and dined mainly on other watery creatures such as frogs. They also form mating balls which may stay together for two or three days---one female and multiple males. They spend the winter together in hibernaculums--one hibernaculum in Ontario was found to have over 6,000 garter snakes!
The author's favorite reptiles are the venomous snakes, their ability to cause damage measured in the number of mice that would die from the poison injected through a single bite. "Drop for toxic drop, the Inland Taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus) wins hands down: a bite from this Australian cobra relative contains enough venom to kill two hundred thousand mice..." In the introductory essay, the author and some of his friends go scrambling through a Costa Rican rain forest, looking for the deadly Bushmaster (Crotalus mutus). They weren't bitten by the Bushmasters they found, just by "huge black ants with the most intensely painful and long-lasting sting of any hymenopteran."
If you'd like to explore the beauty and seductive grace of these ancient reptiles against a detailed backdrop of their biology and natural history, I highly recommend that you read "Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature." I own the hard-bound version, and it is 315 pages of dense text and hypnotic photographs.
on February 11, 2003
If you're an artist and like to draw and/or paint snakes like I do, I highly recommend this book. The photos are gorgeous references.
I found Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature informative; however, I wish it had been better organized. For example, it has a chapter on venomous snakes; a chapter on cobras, coral snakes, and their relatives; a chapter on seakraits and seasnakes; and a chapter on vipers, adders, and pitvipers. All these types of snakes (except maybe for some of the seasnakes) are poisonous. I hope I'm not sounding too presumptuous, like I'm interfering with the artistic process, but I would suggest that Harry Greene make venomous snakes a section in the book, with maybe some writings that cover all poisonous snakes and a picture or two of a snake striking or something, and put the other chapters in that section.
Mr. Greene also mentions certain snakes like the king cobra, but there are no pictures of them in this book! I really would have liked to see some.
Other than these things, I like Snakes.
on June 1, 1998
I grew up reading the works of Ditmars and Kauffield (sp?), dreaming of the day when I could visit some of the places they went to, and do some of the things they did. This book managed to capture some of the same feeling of wonder and yearning that I experienced all those years ago. Unlike those books, this book gives a good general overview of snake biology and evolution, and the photos are so beautiful that they brought tears to my eyes. Dr. Greene's anecdotes and writing style bring the subject wonderfully to life.
on December 9, 2001
This was the first time I ever ordered a book through 'Net and must say that Amazon's promised delivery period was bang on target. The book was in mint condition. Count me as very satisfied with the service. On with the review.
It was with much excitement as I unpacked the book, also another first as far as literature on snakes was concerned, and I have found it hard to put down ever since. The photos were excellent as well as the quality of the print. What "disappointed" me was the main focus on venomous species with almost perfunctory glimpses of non-venomous snakes. The author's fascination with venomous snakes is very evident and, in this respect, a wealth of information. However, if one's interests lies with non-venomous species, this book would be considered inadequate.
The above aside, I find this book to be most absorbing and lucid in its explanation of the various topics covered. I'd certainly recommend this book as a "must-have" for all avid herpers' libraries.
on July 26, 2001
What I like about the book is that it is new, by an expert and wonderfully illustrated. What I don't like is that the book is heavily biased towards cladism and treatment of snake groups seems to be somewhat haphazard and poorly organised. Words like Uropeltidae do not occur in the index. Many groups are hard to find except using the genus rank and the accounts even for genera are sometimes scattered and the text is chatty though sometimes rambling. This is not an introduction to snakes and its target audience seems rather eclectic (beginners, experts or people inbetween?).
I am disappointed that traditional groupings and classifications have been totally ignored which makes this work hard to cross-reference against older works which do have those groups. The author does not propose his own system based on Linnean ranks or for that matter a well annotated cladogram (there is a rather abstract one at the front).
Undoubtedly informative, I feel that serpents and those interested in them have been descriptively let down, coming from an acknowledged expert. More warmth and better organisation could have helped as in the standard of such works as "Handbook of Birds of the World - Lynx Edicions".
on January 31, 1999
I came upon this book while searching for information on an unusual snake- the Asian Long-nosed Vine Snake. This book not only gave me information, but in it I found great detail on many snakes, and much information on adaptations that I had known nothing about. As a budding herpetologist, I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn about snakes, their wiles, their guiles, and their wonder.