A Naturalist’s Guide to the Arctic

The title of this book is slightly less self-explanatory than you might think; its range is the North American Arctic, and thus primarily the Canadian Arctic. There’s nothing about Greenland or Scandinavia, nor about Arctic Russia.

The primary target audience is people who are going to the Arctic and want to know what they are looking at. I do not fall within that group, at least not immediately. Granted, I have always wanted to go to see northern Scandinavia or Iceland, but that’s not likely to happen in the immediate future, nor is it why I bought the book. This was research material. I’m writing something with an Arctic-style setting (it’s set in a fictional world), and I wanted to know a bit more about the kinds of animals, plants, and terrain that should be around.

For those purposes, the book is almost ideal. It does discuss all the aspects (although I would have liked a bit more on sea fish, which are barely mentioned), and it provides enough information about behaviour and appearance for me to include plants and animals in a work of fiction. I also learned quite a lot; I hadn’t realised that ravens lived in the Arctic all year round, for example. That has to be one of the most striking examples of anti-camouflage going. Another striking realisation was the level of life in the Arctic. Yes, it’s a harsh environment, but there are still large mammals living there, as well as lots of small ones, and birds, and quite a range of plantlife. The environment in piece I’m writing will be rather more lively than I had previously planned, which is all to the good.

As well as suiting my purposes, it looks like the book would also suit the purposes for which it was intended. It is illustrated with drawings rather than photographs, which tends to make identification easier, and focuses on what you are likely to be able to see. There are a number of genera of plants that are treated all together because there is no way that a visitor to the Arctic would be able to tell the species apart, for example. While I was reading it, I did think that it might be nice to visit the Arctic, and actually see some of these creatures. While there still is and Arctic to visit.

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