God, what a depressing book. And I don’t say that as a bad thing necessarily, tho I certainly wouldn’t recommend this for anyone in need of an emotional pick-me-up. And while this is a decidedly sad volume — what self-respecting book covering the often needless extinction of entire species wouldn’t be? — it also carries a throughline of hope, as deftly written by poet Radek Malý.
Covering the life and death of forty-one different species, this is a well-researched volume of popular science that ranges the world and showcases both well and lesser-known exterminations. It’s also remarkably even-handed, even when it’s remarkably clear that the number one cause of species extinction is the, often malicious, encroachment of humans. It’s both saddening and infuriating to read how certain species, such as the Steller’s Sea Cow and the Great Auk, died from humanity’s sheer bloodthirstiness, even after other humans had worked so valiantly to stop the unnecessary slaughters.
Of course, not every extinction was necessarily our fault, or even wholly unwelcome. Am I going to lose any sleep over the loss of a species of swarming locust? Incredibly doubtful. But the display of biodiversity here, with interesting anecdotes and historical information, is both breath-taking and sobering, showing the negative and positive impacts of human encroachment, civilization and science over the past several millennia in a way that encourages readers to grieve less and do more. Science, in fact, is where the book places a lot of its hopes, briefly detailing the ongoing efforts to revive several of these species ahead of a possible reintroduction to the wild.
There are two visual artists at work in these illustrated pages. Jiří Grbavčic is the artist responsible for the full page spreads depicting each creature in its natural environment. The colors in particular are vivid and eye-catching, tho these full-page illustrations as a whole seem occasionally less accurate to me than the works of Pavel Dvorský, whose sketches are included inline with the text.
While this book is ostensibly aimed at thoughtful children, it’s also a very accessible read for adults wanting to learn more about these vanished species. I certainly learned a lot more about the world than I knew before, which is always a good thing with books like these. More importantly, it reaffirmed my commitment to conservation and to doing right by the environment.
Atlas of Extinct Animals by Radek Malý, illustrated by Jiří Grbavčic & Pavel Dvorský was published April 26 2022 by Albatros Media and is available from all good booksellers, including