08 June 2006

Platypus: A mediocre book about an extraordinary animal

The platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus), the enigmatic “duck”-billed mammal of Australia, puzzled zoologists for more than a century, especially with its anatomy and reproduction. The first platypus specimen, only a skin, reached England in 1799 and it wasn’t until 1884 when it was definitely established that platypuses were oviparous, that is, they laid eggs like reptiles and birds, but unlike the majority of mammals. Along the way, perhaps thousands of platypuses were killed to provide specimens for British zoologists. It sure could have been done with much less carnage.

This book, by the Australian writer Ann Moyal, is the story of this fascinating creature and those who studied it. Unfortunately, it was a letdown; the author’s style is wordy and repetitive and the book is inflated with paragraphs and even chapters that could and should have been deleted. The entire story could have easily been told more concisely in the form of a magazine article. But then, the author wouldn’t have had a book, would she? I am starting to think that these writers, who otherwise don’t have much to say, stuff their manuscripts with minimally related material so as to have as many pages as they can. Do they get paid by the number of pages they write, or what? Another book that suffered from the same problem was The last giant of Beringia that I reviewed in a previous post.

But now, I am interested in the platypus and will be writing a more technical post about it.


Katie said...

I have always thought the platypus was an interesting creature as well. I look forward to your future posts about them.

clare said...

Looking forward to this