Nature's Great Events

This sumptuous companion book to a BBC series examines our planet and its wild inhabitants.

Nature’s Great Events Edited by Karen Bass University of Chicago Press 320 pp., $39.95

In an age of astonishingly short attention spans, with rumors circulating that the primitive communication device known as “the book” is headed for extinction, it’s a gutsy, bold experiment to pitch a coffee-table tome in tandem with an exhilarating television series.

But to pick up Nature’s Great Events: The Most Amazing Natural Events on the Planet, a portentous and richly illustrated companion book to the BBC nature documentary “Nature’s Most Amazing Events,” is to be pleasantly surprised by the degree of pleasure that can still be derived from learning the old-fashioned way.

Be forewarned, however: This isn’t Walt Disney behind the lens. “Nature’s Most Amazing Events” is an exotic, unsugarcoated travelogue based on six different television episodes filmed in different locations but jampacked with more provocative background information than could be told on TV. In this sense, this companion volume is a reference book, ably edited by Karen Bass.
Readers journey to Botswana’s Okavango Delta at the time of seasonal flooding when the desert turns into a busy wildlife oasis populated by everything from elephants and hippos to crocodiles. We join humpback whales and killer whales along the coastline of Alaska.
We drop into the rumbling, dusty Serengeti Plain at the height of the wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle migration, when cheetahs, lions, and hyenas are stalking them.
We venture along South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope as an epic sardine run attracts an incredible assemblage of marine life, including great white sharks. We interact with giant brown bears and wolves at the height of the salmon run in British Columbia.
And tragically, we are witness to the current and ongoing melting of 10 million square kilometers of sea ice in the Arctic, which threatens the survival of the white icon of the far north, the polar bear.
The book’s accessible narrative is brilliantly executed; and, the photography, featuring 400 images, is breathtaking. Many coffee-table books can provoke sticker shock,  but this one, priced at $39.95, costs no more than a day at the zoo for a family of four. It takes you further, however, by revealing how the wild cousins of those captive animals live – and how their survival rests in our hands.

Todd Wilkinson lives in Bozeman, Mont., and is writing a book about Ted Turner.

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