Curious about the colobus, okapi, babirusa . . . ?

The Encyclopedia of Mammals, edited by David Macdonald. New York: Facts on File. 895 pp. $45. It is hard to imagine, on the one hand, anyone digesting the whole of ``The Encyclopedia of Mammals'' at one sitting, but it is equally hard to imagine the serious student of nature being without this huge and wonderful book.

Dr. David Macdonald, with the help of 22 advisory editors and 176 contributors, not to mention those responsible for the fine artwork, has assembled a volume that will tell you more of warmblooded animals than you likely ever cared to know.

``The Encyclopedia of Mammals'' contains sections on carnivores, sea mammals, primates, ungulates, small herbivores and insect-eaters, and marsupials, and each phylum is further distinguished by genus titles in the table of contents. How many individual species are covered I couldn't guess and probably can't count that high anyway.

How do tigers hunt? How big is an Oriental short-clawed otter? What are the 37 species of colobus and leaf monkeys? How heavy is the average adult okapi? Where is De Winton's golden mole found? What is the average life span of a babirusa? How does a dwarf mongoose care for its young? What does a Malayan stink badger look like?

If these are the sorts of questions you're eager to have answered, then ``The Encyclopedia of Mammals'' is for you. The illustrations are good and numerous. There are a glossary, index, bibliography, and various appendixes. For the money, this book is hard, if not impossible, to beat.

James Kaufmann reviews books regularly for the Monitor.

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