It's a wild world In case you need to be reminded that the third rock from the sun is a strange and wonderful world, turn to the Simon ∧ Schuster Encyclopedia of Animals: A Visual Who's Who of the World's Creatures ($50, 0684852373), edited by Philip Whitfield. A brief introduction explains classification by evolutionary kinship, and the rest is pure fun. The 2,000+ illustrations are lovely, the information astonishing, the very names worthy of Lewis Carroll: bandicoot, pudu, stink badger, greater racquet-tailed drongo, crested serpent eagle, marbled salamander, secretary bird. (Quick: How can you tell a dibatag from a gerenuk?) The king cobra's head can be as big as a human's, and it is the only snake known to create a nest for its eggs. The young of the Nile mouthbrooder fish hatch inside the mother's mouth and return to it when frightened. The naked mole rat's social structure is more like that of insects than of mammals. This is not trivia. This is a gorgeous family album our own.

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