Synopses & Reviews
From medieval bestiaries to Borges’s Book of Imaginary Beings
, we’ve long been enchanted by extraordinary animals, be they terrifying three-headed dogs or asps impervious to a snake charmer’s song. But bestiaries are more than just zany zoology — they are artful attempts to convey broader beliefs about human beings and the natural order. Today, we no longer fear sea monsters or banshees. But from the infamous honey badger to the giant squid, animals continue to captivate us with the things they can do and the things they cannot, what we know about them and what we don’t.
With The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, Caspar Henderson offers readers a fascinating, beautifully produced modern-day menagerie. But whereas medieval bestiaries were often based on folklore and myth, the creatures that abound in Henderson’s book — from the axolotl to the zebrafish — are, with one exception, very much with us, albeit sometimes in depleted numbers. The Book of Barely Imagined Beings transports readers to a world of real creatures that seem as if they should be made up — that are somehow more astonishing than anything we might have imagined. The yeti crab, for example, uses its furry claws to farm the bacteria on which it feeds. The waterbear, meanwhile, is among nature’s “extreme survivors,” able to withstand a week unprotected in outer space. These and other strange and surprising species invite readers to reflect on what we value — or fail to value — and what we might change.
A powerful combination of wit, cutting-edge natural history, and philosophical meditation, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is an infectious and inspiring celebration of the sheer ingenuity and variety of life in a time of crisis and change.
“The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is one that Pliny would have envied, Darwin applauded, and Borges relished. It celebrates the playful imagination of the universe, capable of dreaming up the zebrafish and the yeti crab; it also celebrates our delight in reading in claws and feathers lessons about our own miraculous self. In these days of doom and gloom, I can think of nothing more rejoicing than Caspar Henderson’s magical book.” Alberto Manguel, author of The Library at Night
“Wondrous, capacious and strange.” Simon Critchley, author of The Book of Dead Philosophers
“If you’re interested, as I am, in weird details about weird animals, this is the book for you. Caspar Henderson takes us on an eye-opening tour of real animals that no sane human could ever have invented.” Frans de Waal, author of The Age of Empathy
“A sublime rumination on existence. In twenty-seven exquisitely crafted cameos, Caspar Henderson reveals the hidden wonders of life in all its exuberant strangeness, at the same time illuminating our own place in the world. Simply stunning.” Callum Roberts, author of Ocean of Life
"Caspar Henderson is a zoological Borges, taking us on a fascinating and exhilarating journey through the labyrinth of natural history. This book is a brilliant and original meditation on what the animal world can teach us about who we are and who we want to be. It weaves an unforgettable spell." Roman Krznaric, author of The Wonderbox
“A wonderful book! With the precision of a scientist, the elegance of an artist, and the minatory power of an Old Testament prophet, Caspar Henderson exhorts us to pay attention to the other species on our endangered planet and learn from them before it is too late.” Richard Holloway
“An utterly extraordinary book: a glorious and genre-bending grimoire; a spell-book of species that entranced me from its first page. Wonderful in the richest senses of the word, as well as witty, moving, urgent, and beautiful.” Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places and The Old Ways
About the Author
Caspar Henderson is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Independent, and New Scientist. He lives in Oxford, UK.