"A Gap In Nature" by Tim Flannery and illustrated by Peter Schouten. Sub-titled, "Discovering the World's Extinct Animals." Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001.
When my grandchildren visit, they often ask me the classical question of how I can read a book without pictures. Not with this book! The pictures are the chief attraction of "A Gap In Nature". Organized by the Australian writer, Tim Flannery, this book collects in one place a tribute to the many species that have become extinct in the recent past, since the first voyage of Columbus.
The artist, Peter Schouten, spent years drawing life-sized portraits for each of the 103 animals, for the beautiful illustrations of this book. Schouten's brilliant, full color illustrations are a delight to look at, and will keep the attention of even a three-year-old boy. My grandson asked, "What's that?" as we turned the pages and then, "Is that a mouse?" when looking at the "Pig-footed Bandicoot" on pages 96-97. No, I found out that the Bandicoot was not a mouse, but rather an Australian marsupial, about "...the size of a kitten". I had never seen such an animal before, and that is the poignant message of this book. The beautiful pictures show animals that no longer exist.
The author, Tim Flannery, has previously expounded his thesis that the arrival of humankind heralded the extinction of so many different animals on so many different continents and islands. For example, in his recent book, "The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples", Flannery ascribes the destruction of the mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths to the arrival of the first humans in North America some 13,200 years ago, in what he terms "a megafauna barbecue". In "A Gap In Nature", Dr. Flannery does not have to dwell too deeply on the culpability of humans in this worldwide extinction. It is enough to sit there and sadly turn page after page, picture after picture, of so many beautiful animals, which no longer exist.