Peter Menkhorst

Boom & Bust: Bird stories for a dry country edited by Libby Robin, Robert Heinsohn and Leo Joseph

June 2009, no. 312

The concept behind this book is unusual and ambitious. In twelve essays centred on charismatic birds of Australia’s inland, the authors attempt to provide a deeper understanding of the ecology of arid Australia. They also hope that their writings will provide insights and inspiration about how humans might live there in a more sustainable way. Birds were selected as the linking theme of these essays because their ecology is comparatively well known, because their mobility increases the options available for surviving in the harsh and unpredictable desert environment, and because birds, to many readers, are the most familiar group of animals.

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If the history of ornithology seems esoteric, of interest only to specialists, this is the book to open your eyes. Tim Birkhead is an eminent field ornithologist and a gifted and passionate science communicator. Each of these elements shines from this book, a wonderful distillation of the vast ornithological literature that has accumulated over the past four centuries. Effectively a history of natural history, it is a delight to read.

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In the late twentieth century, museums throughout the world faced a number of challenges. Confronted with a plethora of flashy new technologies, they struggled to overcome a perception of irrelevance and fustiness. Bureaucrats demanded that museums pay their way, entertain the masses, and meet the growing expectations for instant gratification and information without effort.

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