The Eponym Dictionary of Amphibians by Bo Beolens, Michael Watkins & Michael Grayson | Hardback | May 2013 | Pelagic Publishing | ISBN: 9781907807411 | NHBS Price: £34.99 The Authors:
Richard Crombet-Beolens is known to all as Bo Beolens or as his online personae, the ‘Grumpy Old Birder’ and the ‘Fatbirder’. While much of his career was in community work and as the CEO of various charities, all his free time has been spent birding or otherwise pursuing his life-long interest in the natural world. Since the late 1990s he has had articles published in a variety of birding magazines in the UK and USA. He is co-author of three other ‘eponym dictionaries’ and has a book of memoirs in publication. He has also written for several disability publications.
Michael Watkins is a shipbroker who mainly concentrated on the tanker oil and chemical markets and worked in London for 45 years. No longer active in the business, he is still associated with it as a tutor and part of the examining process for the industry’s professional body, the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers. Since retiring from the City, he has had more time for birding, travelling and grandchildren-minding, but never quite enough.
Michael Grayson spent most of his working life at the British Library, London. His childhood fascination with reptiles and amphibians never left him (much to his parents’ chagrin). His chief interests are vertebrate taxonomy and nomenclature, and the captive husbandry of exotic species. He is a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London.For obvious reasons this review is from a ‘guest reviewer’… Charlie Moores perhaps currently best known for his excellent conservation website: Talking Naturally
I’m becoming very fond of Pelagic Publishing, the firm behind the new ‘The Eponym Dictionary of Amphibians’ (EDA,) by Bo Beolens (known to nearly all and sundry as the Fatbirder), Michael Watkins, and Michael Grayson. They seem to be specialising in bringing to market books that are niche or – to put it less ambiguously – are unlikely to sell in high volume, for which they deserve support and applause. And it’s not because their wildlife titles aren’t well-written or well-researched that they probably won’t be best-sellers, but because they’re unlikely (sadly) to find their way onto the bookshelves of most amateur naturalists, let alone members of the general public whose quest for knowledge of the natural world stops at BBC documentaries.
That’s a problem all publishers face in these austere times of course, but Pelagic are ploughing a notably brave furrow. Take the EDA as an example. I happen to know Bo, and I happen to know how hard he and his colleagues worked to write this gem of a book. A massive amount of research went into it, tracking down some incredibly obscure references, and re-checking data that online sources have requoted from quoted sources that are now buried in – to use a well-worn phrase – the mists of time. The result of all that hard work is a dictionary, one that uncovers the places or those explorers, collectors, scholars, patrons, aristocrats or Wagnerian characters immortalised in the vernacular and/or scientific names of 2,668 of the world’s amphibians (many of which are now in very real danger of extinction of course, as habitat change and disease sweeps the planet).
Arranged alphabetically, EDA is a treasure trove of ‘things you didn’t know you didn’t know’ and leafing through it is a great way to idle away an hour or two. Perhaps it’s a reflection on my own ignorance and more people than I realise do actually know that Molloch, who appears in the scientific name of the Black-spotted Frog, was a sun god of the ancient Canaanites, or that Jason Speer, VP of Quality Float Works Inc of Illinois, donated enough towards research to have a poisonous frog named after him, but somehow I doubt it. There are some more well-known names in here – eg Pere David who is remembered via a deer and a raft of Asian birds, Johann von Spix of Macaw fame, Bullock who has rather lovely North American oriole named after him, the rainforest activist and silvery-voiced Sting (who has his own tree frog), and Simon Bolivar who (as EDA points out) is one of the most significant figures in South American history. On the whole though this is a lovingly compiled list of amphibians and the folk who discovered them that many hardcore herpetologists may well be partly familiar but that will be new to most of us.
Which brings me back to the point I started with: EDA is probably not going to be a book that sells in high volume. It’s not illustrated, it’s written in a mostly straightforward and pithy way without flourish or extraneous comment, but this is still a wonderful book, because – in my humble opinion – while not many of us need to know that Karunaratne’s Narrow-mouthed Frog is named after a Sri Lankan zoologist and entomologist, I find it uplifting that Bo and the two Michaels have featured him and a whole world full of diligent, hard-working individuals (1,609 of them to be exact) in a book – and that Pelagic have backed the project and clearly worked hard to help present it in as readable way as possible.
I would assume that anyone ‘into’ amphibians, and perhaps into better understanding the history of wildlife discovery, will buy EDA immediately. I’d like to think so. Despite a high-ish cover price (around £35.00) I hope others will give it a look to, and above all I hope that writers like Bo Beolens and publishers like Pelagic (who do print more ‘popular’ titles in case anyone reads this and is given the impression that they don’t!), keep writing and publishing compilations of data and info that the internet was supposed to kill off but that more than ever deserve to be available as a hard copy that we can all pick up and enjoy.Buy this book from www.nhbs.com