BOOKS: Mammals of North America

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2004:

Mammals of North America
by Nora Bowers, Rick Bowers
and Kenn Kaufman
Kaufman Focus Guides (c/o Houghton Mifflin, 215
Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10003), 2004. 352
pages. Flex binding. $22.00.

Reviewers inevitably liken Mammals of
North America editor Kenn Kaufman to the late
Roger Tory Peterson–with reason.
Peterson, editor and chief illustrator
of more than 50 field guides, was introduced to
birding in 1924, at age 11, by a Junior Audubon
Club. The members were taught to shoot birds and
study their corpses. Horrified, Peterson saved
his earnings as a newspaper boy to buy a camera,
at a time when shutter speeds were believed to be
too slow to capture clear images of birds on the
wing, and soon became the first distinguished
bird photographer, hand-tinting his prints
because color film had not yet been invented.
Peterson produced his first Field Guide to the
Birds in 1934.

Kaufman dropped out of high school at age
16 in 1970 to travel 80,000 miles, hitchhiking
and riding buses, en route to breaking the
record for most bird species seen in one year.
Impressed, Peterson a few years later hired
Kaufman to write and illustrate The Peterson
Field Guide To Advanced Birding. Since
Peterson’s death in 1995, Kaufman has become his
own editor and publisher, producing probably the
most user-friendly of all field guides. Mammals
of North America, compiled chiefly by Nora and
Rick Bowers, is squarely in the distinguished
Peterson/Kaufman tradition.
Kaufman’s most visible contribution is
the introduction. “More and more people identify
themselves as butterflyers today, and of course
birders are legion. But no one is a ‘mammaler,'”
he observes. “Or perhaps everyone is. The
stated purpose of a trip may be to look for birds
or plants or butterflies, but that pursuit is
supended if a wild mammal appears. Let a fox or
deer cross the path, let even a chipmunk
approach the group, and it will become the
center of attentionĊ for the most part mammals are
what we have in mind when we think about the
thrill of seeing wild animals.”
My test of the scope of Mammals of North
America was to see if it included photographs of
the Arctic shrew and the creeping vole.
Circa 1983 I interviewed Quebecois field
guide author Michel Quintin, DVM, after he
endured months of hardship to become reputedly
the first person to photograph Arctic shrews in
the wild. Unfortunately the photo was not of
reproducible quality. Quintin was obliged to
draw an Arctic shrew to illustrate his 1983 opus
Mammifres Terrestres. Kaufman has a photo of an
Arctic shrew, but almost certainly a captive
specimen.
The little known creeping vole is the
mammal who most recently caused me to page
through field guides for hours to make an
identification. If Mammals of North America had
been here then, with the photo on page 221, the
search would have been much shorter.

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