Friday, May 10, 2013

A new review of my Birds in Books!

(Pittie, 886)… A brief nomenclature that remains one of the last vestiges of a long history of book collector/dealer jargon rapidly being lost in the book trade’s mad rush to communicate with the general public… the non-initiates, though the money spenders. A bibliophiles pride, often sighting bibliographies ad nauseam, and boasting of the long developed and hand-picked references lining the cataloguers walls. Despite the over 400 bibliographies in my own library (he casually suggests with more than a hint of bravado), the fact remains that 90% of these, and any other such collection, are little more than lists… And until yesterday, I could count on one hand the ones that really stand out as exceptional tools of the trade. Now, I will need my other hand.

Following a brief series of email exchanges with Aasheesh Pittie, it became very clear that he was a bibliographer extraordinaire and that his book, “Birds in Books: Three Hundred Years of South Asian Ornithology. A Bibliography (Permanent Black, 2000, Ranikhet, India)” would be helpful in my work at the very least. I also had the feeling that it would be an enticing volume of exemplary bibliography… My expectations, though high, were far from being dashed.

Arriving from New Delhi only five days after being ordered, the volume is smaller than most exhaustive bibliographies and non-assuming in appearance. But from opening the first page, it clearly becomes a giant among such works. Following the usual prelims, though with deeper detail and background than most, Pittie dives into the core of the matter. The following 739 pages document in painstaking detail 1715 titles arranged in alphabetical order. Each title begins with the bibliographic details of the publication… the total publication report of many bibliographies. But the best of this reference work is the succinct and exact text that follows. Pittie goes on to discuss content, variations of publication, and the significance of each work… matters that are so important to the collector, the researcher, and the book seller. Following this exhaustive inventory, Pittie wraps up with 57 pages of brief biographies of the authors. Throughout, the content is highly referenced, and the end of the volume finds a general index, as well as index’s of new names; and acronyms, co-authors, & co-editors.

Although I love the ornithological works of the 18th and 19th century, this is not my area of specialty. But with a reference like this one in hand, I will likely find myself moving just a little more in that direction.

Lloyd Zimmer

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