Monday, June 21, 2010

A review of my book by Bikram Grewal

Birds in Book – Three Hundred years of South Asian Ornithology. A Bibliography
Aasheesh Pittie
Published by Permanent Black (Hard Cover, 846 pages, B&W, Price Rs. 795)
Sanctuary Asia

Many decades back Tim Inskipp, one of the great doyens of Indian ornithology, showed me his bibliography of works on birds of the Indian subcontinent and from thereon I was hooked. For many years I corresponded with him, keeping him updated on new material available in India, buying old book when I could find (more importantly afford) them. Then, one day, the esteemed editor of the book under review, sent me a CD Rom of the bibliography he personally maintained. It was so extensive and detailed (about 27 thousand entries) that there was nothing I could add to it and stopped my work instantly. Since them I had been badgering him about transforming this colossal work into print and so when eventually this tome arrived at my desk, I was overjoyed.

‘Birds in Books’ as the title implies is a bibliography spanning three hundred years of South Asian ornithology and lists over 1700 books, including field guides, monographs, checklists and other printed matter. Many are well researched and annotated. The areas covered include ¬– India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Tibet making this book truly comprehensive and a brilliant example of one man’s obsession with the written word.
A brief introduction mentions the major publications from 1713 to 2009 and explains how the book is set out. The bulk of the book is naturally taken up by the bibliography portion. Brief biographies of about 200 authors are given at the end and three indexes enable the reader to search for particular items.
Since it is de rigueur for reviewers to be critical, I would like to add my bit. Alice, of Wonderland fame, once queried what is the use of a book without pictures? I now ask the same of the Editor for photographs of authors, facsimiles of book covers and perhaps some old bird illustrations would have added greatly to the joys of this book. That notwithstanding, my congratulations to both Aasheesh and Permanent Black for this stupendous effort.
Bikram Grewal