The Orbis Encyclopedia of Birds of Britain and Europe. Edited by John Gooders. Rizzoli Editore, Milan, 1971, and Orbis Publishing Ltd, 1978. Five volumes, first and last sent for review; hundreds of colour photographs, illustrations, maps, species accounts and general essays. £37.50 (£7.50 per volume)

Hopefully, this will be the final regurgitation of a well conceived but imperfectly executed attempt to cross a field guide with a literary handbook and so breed an ornithological encyclopedia. It has already appeared in 65 weekly instalments (and, in my area, these are on the stands again). Presumably, thousands of people have bought it, but the arrival of a hardback version should not be taken as an ultimate triumph in ornithological publishing. My reactions to the weekly instalments were, in sequence, real interest, growing frustration, some anger and, finally, partial revenge. Looking now at two review volumes, I feel the same all over again, but they are too strong for my scissors. The good parts are the colour photographs, which make up an excellent reference series and include some seldom photographed subjects, the colour plates of birds in flight by the increasingly influential Peter Hayman, and most of the essays that space out the species texts and deal with topics as wide-ranging as evolution, hybridisation and falconry. The bad parts--unfortunately in the majority--are the lurid illustrations and the truncated or vacuous texts purporting to describe every species on the European list. Both fail consistently to pass the tests that must now be put in view of the modern standards in field identification and other disciplines. I could relent and say that the 'ordinary birdwatcher' will be well enough served by this superficially handsome offering. If I do, however, I shall only compound the conceit of Orbis and Mr Gooders. The latter can serve birdwatchers well, but, when making the claim that this originally Italian hotchpotch is 'the most comprehensive work so far published on the birds of Europe', he must have been joking. Caveat emptor! . D.I.M.WALLAC E 

Issue 12
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