The Hunt by Alastair Fothergill and Huw Cordey

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The Hunt by Alastair Fothergill and Huw Cordey

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Category: Animals and Wildlife
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: One could hope for a better balance of science and narrative, and less repetition when the captions come along, but by the closing chapter, on how the series' very making benefitted science, you will hold this book and the TV equivalent in high esteem.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 312 Date: October 2015
Publisher: BBC Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781849907224

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My mother has long complained that nature programmes too often concentrate on the death and violence, or how it's all about the capture and killing of one animal by another. She's long had a point, but killer whales swanning by doing nothing, and lions sleeping off the heat without munching on a passing wildebeest's leg really don't cut it when it comes to providing popular TV content. I doubt she will be tuning in to the series this book accompanies, even if the volume very quickly testifies that it's not all about the capture – often the chase can be just as thrilling, and the result for the intended victim is favourable.

Reading this, you can see that that is borne out. It rarely gets particularly scientific, but it does feature a similar fact quite a few times – the ratio of hunts that are successful. Some animals have a fifteen percent hit rate – and when you're a leopard you're likely to lose the same proportion of prey, as other creatures will try to take it off you and you have no shelter in which to store it. Still, the scope of the book really is incredibly varied – two-centimetre-long spiders that can span a jungle river as broad as your local swimming pool is long with their insect nets, other spiders that live in a four-inch tunnel under scorching sand and sometimes leave the very heat to finish off the prey they themselves have hobbled, and on up to polar bears with a territory (ice levels permitting) the size of Texas. You'll just have to take it as read there is a breadth here that is jaw-dropping, and permit to me make some other observations.

I can assume from knowing a couple of the episode titles that the book is definitely in parallel with the series. Certainly each chapter ends with a higher concentration on one species, as if the episode concludes with a set piece. We get six episodes – sorry, chapters – here of thirty to fifty pages, then an extra-length 'making of', that noticeably doesn't contain the extras added on to the episodes that the BBC can then drop to allow for other broadcasters' adverts. What I was wondering before starting reading was if the book would be self-aware, and I can report that it's not. A few times the text does suggest scientists didn't/don't know that, or couldn't see that without taking an aerial view, and you just know the camera crew dusted off the old microlight or hot air balloon and did just that for us, but it was over a third of the way in before The Hunt the book specifically referred to The Hunt the programme.

That makes the book an excellent companion piece, even if you – like my mum – don't want to watch anything it could be a companion to. Needless to say the production values are staggering – the amount of wonderful shots must have been increased since the days of analogue photography – and of course analogue television, and we're told some of the TV output would stand being seen in IMAX. The poise, the poses, the many times the animals look direct to camera (quite repulsive when they're gaping-mouthed Indian mackerel) – such are the ways wildlife shows itself off perfectly on these glossy pages. The final chapter includes proof of quite a bit that science knows purely because of the money for, the cameramen and other experts working on, and the very existence of, this programme. For that we can only be grateful.

I did get left with a twinge of feeling, however, that the wildlife was the star and not so much the book. Having seen some of the opening episode I won't fault the TV programme (nor am I here to discuss that) but I did find it noticeable that the science here was to the fore in the episode regarding deep-sea life, which had less of a narrative and less of a 'hero' creature to turn to. Elsewhere, however, it's clear the book's producers are such not because they're also the TV producers, but because they are clear and concise and informed communicators, pure and simple. They could never get over the pictures-disappearing-in-the-centrefold problem, but they could have done with a lot less repetition of the main text when it comes to the many picture captions, which spoils this as a reading book. As a coffee-table nature volume, however, the prestige is evident on every spread, and it will light up the life of any nature fan.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For more appreciation of how such films are made, you will enjoy The Adventure Game: A Cameraman's Tales from Films at the Edge by Keith Partridge.

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