Polar Bears: A Complete Guide to their Biology and Behavior (2012) Text by Andrew E. Derocher, Photographs by Wayne Lynch, in association with Polar Bears International. Johns Hopkins University Press 264 pp. 153 color photos, 4 maps. 978-1-4214-0305-2 $39.95 hardcover
Here is the promotional description of this book:
“Derocher and Lynch have spent decades following polar bears, and this book offers the most comprehensive and readable review of their biology, ecology, behavior, and conservation.” From the JHUPress catalogue
This statement suggested to me that I would find Andrew Derocher’s new book upbeat and primarily concerned with explaining the biology, behavior and life history of polar bears, as the title suggests. I’d buy a book like that, I thought.
I was also eager to see how Derocher’s effort compared with Ian Stirling’s book that came out last year (2011), which I reviewed in July. The title of Stirling’s book – Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species – did at least hint at the advocacy found within.
Would Derocher’s book be substantially different, despite his strident advocacy on display just last month in the press “Bleak future for polar bears, U of A scientists say” and in his most recent co-authored scientific paper (Stirling and Derocher 2012, now in print), that I discussed briefly in my first post? Continue reading
This review was originally posted June 30, 2012 at my evolution blog here
It was picked up as a guest post at Hilary Ostrov’s blog “The View from Here” July 1, 2012 under the title Of polar bears, polemics and climate warming
THE ORIGINAL REVIEW, RE-POSTED BELOW WITH MY EMPHASIS, HAS AN UPDATE ADDED JULY 26 2012, FOUND BELOW THE REFERENCE LIST
I recently came across a review of Ian Stirling’s latest book Polar Bears: The Natural History of a Threatened Species (2011, Fitzhenry & Whiteside) in the March 2012 issue of the journal Arctic, written by Arctic biologist Steven Ferguson. What is remarkable about Ferguson’s review is not what he says about the book but what he does not: lavish praise for Stirling’s polar bear stories but barely a mention of the book’s dismal predictions for the future. To be fair, all of the photographs in this book are outstanding (some are truly stunning) and the polar bear stories and life history information make for a fascinating read.
However, in reality this is not just a book about polar bears but a polemic discussion about the future of Arctic sea ice. Readers of Ferguson’s review might be surprised to find that there is an entire chapter dedicated to “climate warming” (“the game changer in polar bear conservation” according to Stirling). The climate warming chapter is as eye-catching in its own way as the rest of the book: who could miss the enormous, scary-looking graph predicting summer sea ice declining to zero within the next 90 years (described as a “NSIDC & NASA sea ice decay projection,” taken from Stroeve et al. 2007)? Or the two large photos, from different angles, of a bear that died in 1989 when its winter den collapsed? Oddly, such in-your-face photos and graphics seem not to have impressed Ferguson enough to warrant more than a few words in a list of topics covered (“models of future Arctic change”).
In contrast to Ferguson’s benign and somewhat fawning overview, my impression of the book was quite different.