August 9, 2007

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Planet Earth, by Alastair Fothergill et al. (University of California Press, 2007, 312 pages)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons news@hippopress.com

Television killed the coffee-table star.

In 11 chapters of amazing color photos Planet Earth shows us all the places weíll never go and all the reasons to be breathless about existence Ö and itís humdrum by comparison to its sister television series.

If you havenít seen the Discovery Channel series and never will, then the book Planet Earth is worth a look, like many oversized glossy books compiled by professional photographers. Whether it is worth every tree that was used to make its paper and every river that winds up polluted by the byproducts of its ink is less clear. I suspect these sorts of books are like zoos: itís unfortunate, but we sacrifice this one plot of acreage and this one set of animals, turning them over to a very un-wild, unnatural existence, because thatís what makes people give a damn about wildlife and act to preserve it.

But if you have seen the TV series Ö

A still picture of African elephants and buffaloes dipping into a stream is as nothing compared to a moving picture, eight times the size, with sound, of African elephants and buffaloes dipping into a stream. Especially in the days of 50-inch HDTV.

In the book, you canít help seeing the photos but it takes effort to read the text. On video, it takes no effort to watch and hear the narration (unless you Mute, but you wonít because that would silence all the nature noises too, the bird chirps and whooshing wind and drippy cave echoes).

Furthermore, in the book, still pictures of very different scales are placed next to each other, so you have to stop and puzzle out ó how big is this fish in real life, two inches or two feet long? What part am I looking at? Whereas on video the camera will zoom out or pan around and provide context automatically. With the video, you are behind a camera that is swimming through the water or flying past Mt. Everest. You are much closer to feeling the space around you and its grandeur. Video = you are there. Book = you have to think.

Generally speaking Iím a fan of thinking but flat-out experiencing is sometimes the better way to go.

Pardon me while I go find my hiking boots.

Planet Earth the TV series: A+. Planet Earth the companion book: B for a single copy in the library. ó Lisa Parsons