Science meets art, and outstanding page and software design put this meaty survey of vertebrate frontage on the top shelf.
Winchester contributes 12 essays of diverse tone and topic, from a technical description of a skull’s component parts to a short history of skulls in art, a scornful blast at phrenology and a bemused portrait of renowned skull collector Alan Dudley. They are solid enough, but the stars of the show are the illustrations. Hundreds of animal headpieces, drawn largely from Dudley’s huge collection and photographed with startling clarity, float on all-black backgrounds and can be viewed either in tandem with the accompanying narrative or individually full screen. Each skull will turn (even spin) with a touch to reveal every side, and for viewers able either to cross their eyes or lay hands on a stereoscope there are two 3-D options as well. The images can all also be seen in a separate interactive gallery, in which users can select specimens to place side by side, download detailed identifications of each skull’s original owner and (for many) listen to a recorded comment from Dudley. Further bells and whistles include an internal search function, a choice of black text on white in portrait mode or the reverse in landscape mode and also a complete, sonorous audio reading by the author.
Challenging reading for younger audiences, at least in its more academic passages, but dazzling visuals and ingenious digital enhancements (not to mention the topic itself) more than compensate. (iPad informational app. 12-18, adult)