Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History

Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History, by Eric Chaline, Crows Nest, $35
The plus of this beautifully-packaged book on the impact of animals on human history is that it will help you blitz your next trivia night and blind-side your friends; the minus, it could turn you into a crashing bore, arming you with irresistibly fabulous factoids on creatures ranging from the leech and the mosquito, to the pigeon and the seal, not forgetting the tiny cochineal insect which provided pre-Columbian people with the means to dye cloth a rich carmine-red.
Who knew that these birds, insects and beasties so shaped our own story? And a wonderful tale it is, mixing history with myth, poetry with fairy tales, giving us a kaleidoscopic picture of the 49 animals which both helped and harmed humans but with which, finally, we made our peace.
Even the last and longest chapter, on humans themselves, is upbeat on our ability to overcome self-inflicted challenges like global warming.
Right or wrong, it's a book to make you happy — and who would argue with that?

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