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Arlott: Birds of North America and Greenland

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It's hard not to like an author who is so clear about his intentions: in the eleven sentences of Introduction he gives his new Princeton Illustrated Checklist, Norman Arlott warns the reader that this is not "the ultimate field guide," but rather "a helpful nudge" meant to "add to the pleasure of anticipation or memory," modeled on the sort of notes a birder might make before visiting a new region.

Such a work might–might–make sense from the point of view of an English-speaking European about to start out on her first tentative journey to the New World. To put it bluntly, though, this book makes no sense whatsoever when it's turned loose on an audience of "native" birders. The American publisher has made no effort to alter and adapt the content of the original British edition to the needs and expectations of readers over here; the completely rudderless taxonomy and nomenclature make that clear enough, but William Street hasn't even bothered to touch up the (slapdash) bibliography to include i t s  o w n  e d i t i o n s of many of the UK titles included.    

Not to mention the needless breaking of the slender texts into sections, the poor binding that loses the range maps in the gutter, the absence of flight illustrations for the vast majority of species, the grotesquely odd shapes of many of the birds that are shown in flight, the failure to print all the images on a plate to scale, the inadequate proofreading and copy editing, the bizarre colors of the blue corvids, the substitution of paintings of Spotless Starling for European Starling, and the dozens of other errors that leap out on even the most cursory reading. 

The book does have pretty pictures (though not unfailingly accurate pictures) and an index. But that's not enough to recommend this title to any birder–particularly, heaven help us, not to beginners or casual birders, who will come away helplessly confused, and probably wondering how to pronounce "Brünnich's Guillemot."