Blogmas 2018 · Non-Fiction

Review: Bestiary by Christopher Masters

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Exploring the collection of The British Museum, this book looks at objects relating to animals. From porcelain jugs to spear-throwers, jewelry to watercolor-paintings humans have included other animals in their art for centuries. 

Divided into five sections – wild animals, domestic animals, exotic, symbolic, and mythical creatures – the book uses the museum collection to explore the different relationships humans have held with the natural world over the centuries. One of my favourite things about the format is how it encourages readers to look at museums differently. It is easy to trail around a museum or to do a gallery, but museums were designed to preserve human knowledge. Entering with a question or a theme (‘What do we know about human relationships with animals?’) encourages us to get so much more from a visit. 

The introduction tells us how the relationship with animals has developed over time. I was particularly fascinated to learn about early societies where there was less distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ than there is in the modern day. It gave me a greater empathy with and understanding of societies which believed in spirt-animals. 

The book is beautiful, full of high-definition photographs, including many full-page pictures. If you left this book out on a coffee table or in a school book-corner it would be picked up and thumbed through. It has high ‘flickabilty’. Much of the pleasure is in thumbing through the pages to look at the images. 

Bestiary would make a lovely Christmas present – for fans of Newt Scamander, for museum-goers and for people who are insatiably curious. A beautiful look into the collection of The British Museum which encourages us to think deeper about museum collections. Brilliant. 

 

Thanks to Thames And Hudson for my copy of Bestiary. Opinions my own.

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