This well-written and beautifully illustrated book is an excellent introduction to the geography and natural history of tropical America. This region, as the author points out, is one of the most diverse in the world, and its diversity makes sweeping generalizations difficult. Areas which from their map location should be tropical rain forest may in fact be the driest of deserts. Part of this difficulty is here avoided by treating general regions in each of which the main geographic, floral, and faunal features are outlined. The chapter headings often succinctly describe the region involved, for example, the Great Rain Forest, the Amazon Basin, Arid Plateaus and Clay Deserts, Northeastern Brazil; and Glaciers, Lakes, and Dismal Straits, Patagonia, and Tierra del Fuego.
The South American mammalian fauna is, of course, of special interest with its surviving relatives of the camels—the llamas, alpacas, and vicunas, as well as monkeys, armadillos, sloths, anteaters, and a variety of marsupials second only to those of Australia. The birds, however, are even more spectacular and almost indescribable in their abundance and diversity. The reptiles include giant anacondas and boas, as well as brilliant and deadly coral snakes. Among the amphibia are many tree frogs and toads of brilliant coloration and dangerously poisonous. The fish include such oddities as electric eels and the voracious piranhas (pirayas). The insects, of course, are outstanding not only because of their diversity and evolutionary interest, but also because of their beauty.
The plants also include many interesting forms, although they are less familiar to most readers. Among the most striking are the Araucarias which occur in the south of Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Some of these beautiful pine-like trees are now widely cultivated. Also worthy of note are the Nothofagus species of the extreme south. These trees related to our beeches are associated with an endemic fauna much of which has associations with Australia and New Zealand.
This book is well worth the price for the school library. Although not a technical source book, it has an adequate index and will be useful for quick reference as well as for browsing.