We know Mr. Lear (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $45) now mostly for his nonsense, but he was a talented artist, writer, and composer. His other great gift was for friendship, most famously with Tennyson, whose poems he set to music. Mostly self-taught, he gained fame painting birds. Audubon was an admirer. Lear even gave drawing lessons to Queen Victoria. Despite being epileptic and prone to depression, he travelled, almost constantly, throughout England, in Europe and in the east, producing books of his journeys illustrated with his landscape paintings. His first nonsense verse and absurd drawings were done to amuse patrons, friends, and their children, then delighted the public when published in 1846. In this engrossing biography, illustrated with numerous drawings and paintings, Jenny Uglow presents the contrasts of Lear, serious painter and sketcher of the ridiculous, travel writer and author of bosh.
Kelli Anderson is a graphic designer whose works on paper don’t stay flat on a table. Previously she’s made, among other things, a paper record player and a paper camera. Her newest project, This Book Is a Planetarium (Chronicle, $40), is not so much a pop-up book as it is a book of pop-up mechanisms. In addition to being a planetarium that can project the autumn night sky on your ceiling, it’s also a decoder ring to encrypt secret messages, a spiralgraph to create unique designs, a smart phone speaker, a perpetual calendar, and a paper lyre. Each contraption is accompanied by easy-to-understand explanations of why and how they work. In addition to its contents, the book itself is a stunningly engineered object and beautiful, too. As you open each page, the colors pop at the same time the gadget unfurls. The sturdy cardboard construction will hold up well to repeated use and two elastic bands are cleverly positioned to hold the book open when investigating each device. Get ready to be amazed and delighted.
Cetaceans: we think of them as “smart,” but what does that mean in creatures so different from us? Their environment is under the sea, their bodies are adapted for swimming, yet, like us, they are mammals with complex brains. If you’ve ever wondered what use a whale, dolphin, or porpoise makes of that brain, Deep Thinkers: Inside the Minds of Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises (Chicago, $35), edited by Georgetown professor Janet Mann, will give you some insight. As an overview of cetacean research, Mann and her contributors, who each bring their own expertise in marine mammal research, go from brain structure to cognition, communication, society, and culture, giving examples of the animals forming social groups, using tools, and hunting cooperatively. Each chapter is broken down into two- or three-page topics interspersed with graphics and vivid photographs of animals—alone, in groups, or interacting with humans. This clearly written and thoughtfully organized book makes it easy to understand the cetaceans’ place in what has become our world, filled with the threats to their existence, such as pollution, that we caused, but also changes we can make to maintain their presence in the seas.