In celebration of "The Year of the Bird" on the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, National Geographic has published a 500+ page book of photographs and paintings called The Splendor of Birds.
The Splendor of Birds is a collection of images from around the world as seen in National Geographic Magazine over the last 130 years. These images in this book are divided into 4 chapters that are organized chronologically. There are short introductory essays at the beginning of each section and they reflect what was happening at National Geographic during each time period and how birds played a role in the mission of the magazine.
When I had a chance to look through the book the first time I was impressed by the variety of images. Being a bit of a photographer myself, I could appreciate the time and effort many of the photos required especially in the days of physical film. The paintings included in the book are from some of the great bird illustrators of the day. The turn of each page presented images that ranged from spectacular to ordinary.
As I browsed through the book I tried to think of how I would describe it to someone. Was it art?, history?, photography? all of the above? It certainly could qualify as a coffee table book, something as much for display as it is for perusing. I realized that after looking through the book I had lots of questions. How were the images chosen? Was there a common theme beyond "birds" that described sets of images. Why were the time periods arranged the way they are? I couldn't make a connection between that chronology and other events that might have made the periods relevant.
There is a feature of the book that I like and that is a variety of facing pages labeled "Now and Then" where the picture on the left is an older photo of some bird and the picture on the right page is a more modern image of the same species. The comparison aspect is a nice touch.
However the more I looked through the book the more criticisms I had.
I found the captions of many of the images too small and less than informative. It would be nice to have more context about many of the images. Some of the images included are more focused on people or places than birds. Many selections feel as if they were chosen randomly and I didn't find the book to have a good "flow" in it's presentation. Finally, for a book that costs $75 I would want a book that would draw me back over and over again to get a deeper appreciation for it's content. I don't know if this is that book.
So, would I recommend this book? That depends. I certainly think many people would enjoy this book and having a collection of beautiful images to look at again and again might just be the thing when you're in the right mood. Is it worth the cost? I believe that is something that each reader must decide for themselves. Am I glad I have it? Yes and you might be too. If you are curious, it would be worth your time to look this over and see if it resonates with your love of birds.