Books by Richard Conniff

HISTORY
Released: April 12, 2016

"Celebrating the museum's 150th anniversary, this book sparkles with delightful stories and anecdotes about natural history told in a lively style."
A rich and enthusiastic history of Yale University's impressive Peabody Museum of Natural History. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Nov. 1, 2010

"An entertaining survey of a well-worked field that should go nicely alongside the raft of books published for the 2009 Darwin bicentennial."
Nature writer Conniff (Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time: My Life Doing Dumb Stuff with Animals, 2009, etc.) chronicles the obsessions and joys of naturalists who, in the 18th and 19th centuries, fanned out across the globe in pursuit of new species. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: May 4, 2009

"Bright entertainment from a great explainer of the lives of animals."
National Geographic and Smithsonian contributor Conniff (The Ape in the Corner Office, 2008, etc.) offers a delightful collection of pieces about his encounters with spiders, crabs, leopards and other fauna. Read full book review >
ANIMALS
Released: Nov. 1, 2002

A slick presentation combines chatty text and flashy design to delve into the lore and science of rats. Double-page spreads present brief discussions of some element of rat-study together with full-color photographs and sidebars. Topic headings include "What Big Teeth You Have and Other Basic Biology," "Mrs. Rat's Humble Abode," "The Killer Rat," and "The War on Rats." Conniff's (for adults: The Natural History of the Rich, p. 1088, etc.) text is full of interesting factoids, from the occasional presence of rats in White House file cabinets to their prodigious appetites (one rat can eat over 20 pounds of food a year) to the use of rats in laboratories. The photographs are striking, with images of rats leaping, eating, bathing, doing tricks, and (in one unforgettable shot) crawling out of a toilet. There is a peculiar tension in this package; on the one hand, there seems to be an effort to rehabilitate, or at least demystify, the rat—"Rats can, of course, be ferocious—but only when cornered"—but a flip, offhand tone tosses off pat phrases that counter this effect: e.g., "So how many rats do you really have in your town? Here is a reliable, scientific estimate: too many." This is complemented by bold colors that provide the background of many pages and faux-typewriter display type; these elements combine to emphasize the sensational, while the dense text provides sober, and potentially overlooked, reportage. This is a shame, as, flippant and occasionally condescending tone aside, there is quite a lot of substance to this offering—the child who is able to move past the neon will find much of interest within. (Nonfiction. 8-12)Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 2002

"A clever, invaluable zoomorphic study with a wealth of information on what makes the rich tick. (Photo insert)"
Conniff, who specializes in the animal world (Every Creepy Thing, 1998, etc.), casts an inquisitive eye on the human race's big dogs in their diverse habitats, from the Breakers to Blenheim. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Dec. 1, 1998

A savory collection of natural history entertainments from Conniff (Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales from the Invertebrate World, 1996), who shares much with one of his subjects, the weasel—both being "very curious, investigative creatures." Here is a pleasurable miscellany of essays on animals often near but rarely dear: the bat, the cormorant, the house mouse, the porcupine. Much of what Conniff has to report may seem odd, but it's really only Nature steaming along on a normal day: for instance, the grizzly bear, taking August off to dine solely on moths. Or the cahow, a bird thought to be extinct for 350 years, that spends most of its life airborne at sea, returning to land only to nest in burrows under cedar woods. Or the serious scenting talents of the bloodhound (now to be found coursing the English countryside not for that ancient quarry, the fox, but for joggers who volunteer as bait), which more than compensate for all the slobber it produces. Consider the lordly moles tramping their estates, knotting and secreting earthworms against a stormy day. There is the pathological ill will that has been visited upon the cormorant, and there is the bum rap laid on that evolutionarily suicidal "mad dog of tunnel warfare," the stoat. Conniff has also sought out darker engagements, with sharks and snapping turtles, to underscore that "mix of wonder and dread, attraction and repulsion" that characterize so much of our dealings with wild creatures (and a response that Conniff finds healthy evidence that we are still in touch with our "Pleistocene memories," those instincts that were once elemental in human survival). After all is said and done, it is a relief that Conniff doesn't stir the ashes of his experiences afield for deep truths. The creatures themselves are truth, and reason, enough. (line drawings) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

A warm, often funny, sometimes discomfiting look into the lives of creepy-crawly creatures. In his first book, science journalist and television producer Conniff recounts his travels around the world in search of tree-dwelling tarantulas, the aptly named slime eels, giant squid, and other denizens of a squeamish soul's worst nightmares. He peppers his happily daring narrative—for Conniff emerges as a man who will try anything—with unusual facts about the creatures in question. We learn, for instance, that a female fly spends nearly a third of her life throwing up the ``unspeakable things'' she has eaten and that houseflies in general are susceptible to dehydration, which requires them to be near sources of water, one of which is fresh manure. (For all that, Conniff points out, flies are clean creatures, cleaner than humans and far cleaner than perilously disease-ridden mosquitoes, which he brands ``the most dangerous animals on Earth.'') Conniff takes clear delight in analyzing the near-miraculous biochemistry of leeches and the courting habits of wolf spiders, and he takes even more pleasure in examining just why so many people dislike, often viscerally, the invertebrates he studies. (Those people may benefit from reading Conniff's account of how therapists cure arachnophobia; and as a bonus, every reader of this book will learn how to get rid of fleas.) The book has its disgusting passages, but also moments of scientific poetry, as when Conniff writes, ``One day I watched a damselfly nymph scanning its underwater world with its big, wide-set yellow eyes. When a quarter-inch minnow approached, the eyes followed it. . . . It yearned for the fish, the way a cat longs for a moth dancing just out of reach.'' Conniff delivers an uncommonly graceful excursion into popular science. Recommended reading for budding naturalists. (16 line drawings, not seen) Read full book review >