Picks and Pans Review: Illuminations: a Bestiary

updated 02/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/23/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Rosamond Wolff Purcell and Stephen Jay Gould

By turns ethereal, sculptural, macabre and droll, the subjects of this inspired work are specimens unearthed from the back rooms of such natural history collections as Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, where Gould teaches. Here are chicken turtles, hares, quetzals, flap-necked chameleons, triggerfish and poison-arrow frogs: wonderments with a postmortem scientific mission, each given a new dimension by photographer Purcell. Seen in shafts of sunlight, a quartet of dusty ibis eggs takes on the look of smooth-banded stones; a bat preserved in glycerine becomes an ectoplasmic apparition. Cautioning against ranking these phenomena in terms of inherent value or seeing them as "objects for our ethical instruction," Gould reveals these occult treasures for what they are: remarkable anecdotes in the history of life. (Norton, $35)

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