The Book of Barely Imagined Beings

A 21st-Century Bestiary

Caspar Henderson

Published: 3 October 2013
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 448 pages
ISBN: 9781847082442

Other Editions

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Published: 11 October 2012
ISBN: 9781847085917


From Axolotl to Zebrafish, discover a host of barely imagined beings: real creatures that are often more astonishing than anything dreamt in the pages of a medieval bestiary. Ranging from the depths of the ocean to the most arid corners of the earth, Caspar Henderson captures the beauty and bizarreness of the many living forms we thought we knew and some we could never have contemplated, inviting us to better imagine the precarious world we inhabit.

A witty, vivid blend of pioneering natural history and spiritual primer, infectiously celebratory about life's sheer ingenuity and variety, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is a mind-expanding, wonder-inducing read.

About the author

Image of Caspar Henderson

Caspar Henderson is a writer and journalist. His work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Independent, New Scientist, the New York Review of Books, and other publications. From 2002 to 2005 he was a senior editor at OpenDemocracy. He received the Roger Deakin Award from the Society of Authors in 2009 and the Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award in 2010. He is the author of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, a bestiary for the 21st Century, which was shortlisted for the 2013 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science. He lives in Oxford, England. More about the author


‘Challenges our perception of the natural world, and reminds us of the huge effect we have on the environment... Enlightening and beautiful’ Carl Wilkinson



‘A celebration, a warning, and unquestionably one of the best books of the year’ Bella Bathurst

‘Wonderful, beautiful and engrossing... a delight’ Robin Ince

‘As fabulous as anything Borges ever conceived... What stops this from becoming a conventional zoological doomfest is the bounce of his writing and the breadth of his knowledge’ Bella Bathurst

‘Thick with witty reflections on natural history and a huge number of luxurious illustrations... An impressively generous volume, which should come as no surprise for a publication from one of our favourites, Granta’

‘Wondrous, capacious and strange’ Simon Critchley

‘A wonderful book! With the precision of a scientist, the elegance of an artist and the minatory power of an Old Testament prophet, Caspar Henderson exhorts us to pay attention to the other species on our endangered planet and learn from them before it is too late’ Richard Holloway

‘Henderson is a zoological Borges, taking us on a fascinating and exhilarating journey through the labyrinth of natural history... a brilliant and original meditation on what the animal world can teach us about who we are and who we want to be, with plenty of witty asides along the way... Unforgettable’ Roman Krznaric, author of The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live and faculty member of The School of Life

‘A sublime rumination on existence. In twenty-seven exquisitely crafted cameos, Henderson reveals the hidden wonders of life in all its exuberant strangeness, at the same time illuminating our own place in the world. Simply stunning’ Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation at the University of York

‘Utterly extraordinary book: glorious and genre-bending; a spell-book of species that entranced me from its first page... A celebration of nature's astonishing variety - and a warning as to what we are so rapidly losing’ Robert Macfarlane

‘Mixing anatomical details, evolutionary speculation, and social commentary, Caspar Henderson takes us on an eye-opening tour of real animals that no sane human could ever have invented’ Frans de Waal, author

‘Full of the unusual and the astonishing... Henderson writes beautifully, with apt analogies and brilliantly explanatory metaphors... [A] delight’

‘A rich mixture of science, mythology and literature, whose plethora of entertaining digressions left me overwhelmed and impressed’ Richard Fortey

‘A triumph ... Imaginative and elegantly conceived... Rewarding in all measures, from an idle browse to an immersive page turn, this is zoological writing at its very best’

‘Thoughtful, entertaining and often challenging’

‘A fine and accessible work of scholarship... Stunning’ Anthony Davies

‘It takes a writer of Henderson's talent to fascinate us with tales of sponges and protozoa... This engrossing, fact-filled yet poetic book is an excellent attempt to understand the nature of the gulf between us and the species with which we share this planet... Magnificent’ Philip Hoare

‘Exhilarating... one of 2012's most remarkable books on the natural world’ Roy Wilkinson

‘Gorgeous’ Nic Bottomley

‘A beautiful book, with incredible illustrations’ Oxfam blog

‘Here is the key to nature's secret cupboard, featuring the animals that have eluded our gaze. Seek no further for the dream gift’ Eileen Battersby, Books of the Year

‘He can demonstrate not only the staggering fecundity of evolution but the fragility of the eco-system that supports such diversity... [His] extended paean to nature's creativity leaves us with a sense of unfinished business rather than inevitable doom’ James Attlee

‘Exuberantly learned... [Henderson] finds joy in -animals themselves’ James McConnachie

‘A spellbinding book... [Henderson] fuses zoology, literature, mythology, history, palaeontology, anecdote and art through 27 brilliantly executed essays... Extraordinary’ Gavin Francis

‘Magnificent’ Must Reads

‘Each entry marries history and philosophy with science, and fantastical illustrations, photographs and diagrams enrich the book's pages... Recommended’

‘Once you start reading, it becomes hard to stop... Expect to be glued to [this book]... A superb celebration of biodiversity... Unforgettable’ Nicola Baird

‘Engaging, descriptive and often drily humorous... [This] modern bestiary is a book to read and treasure’

‘Erudite and beautifully and thoughtfully written... There are many pleasures to take from this book... I absolutely loved it’

‘[A] marvellously inventive, witty and ethically serious compendium-grimoire-spell book-dream vision, whose many virtues I cannot exhaust’ Robert Macfarlane

‘British nature writing is wittily energized by this sense of menace and hazard... by Caspar Henderson’ Robert Macfarlane

‘Beautiful’ Alan Boyle

‘A beautiful work that celebrates Earth's extraordinary species’ Stuart Pimm

‘Sophisticated... [with a] deep respect for evolutionary science..... [This] is a book about what it means to be human’

‘Magical ... both aesthetically pleasing and scientifically intriguing, [it] would make an inspiring addition to any natural history collection’

‘A lovely cultural history of animals we know and animals we may not... Impressive’ Lesley McDowell

‘A collection as fabulous in sum as any of its parts’

‘Exuberantly learned’ James McConnachie

‘This is not just a beautiful book - it is an important one’ five star review


‘Compulsively readable, both informative and thought-provoking’

‘Eloquent as well as encyclopaedic, witty and warm, Caspar Henderson is the perfect companion for this tour of the strange and beautiful’ Louise Fabiani

‘Henderson looks at these animals with a sensibility that makes you see them anew’ William Leith

‘It is a glorious celebration of our extraordinary world, presented in a gorgeous volume and exuding wit and charm’

‘An utterly charming fusion of science and navel-gazing... there aren't words to describe how beautiful this volume is, or the feelings it evokes. Stunning’

‘Henderson offers readers a fascinating, beautifully produced modern-day menagerie’

‘[A] beautifully conjured world of barely imagined beings’ Best Science Books

‘Lovely... Henderson presents us with something that stays in the memory long after the book is put back on the shelf, a whole that is greater than its parts’ Alok Jha

‘A series of Montaignesque essays that celebrate the diversity of life’ Gavin Frances, Books of the Year


‘A glorious A-Z of natural oddities’

‘This extraordinary and exotic book is a hugely important’

‘[Henderson] uses each creature as a springboard into ideas as beautifully wild as the animals themselves... Remarkable, funny and wise’

‘The most beautiful publication I have read in many years. Caspar is a writer of extreme charm, wit and intelligence... His writing is funny and wise’ Hugh Warwick

‘Extraordinary and exotic book... a hugely important work’

‘A fascinating mix of science and philosophy’

‘A powerful combination of wit, cutting-edge natural history, and philosophical meditation... Infectious and inspiring’

‘Though his tone is often jaunty and he ends with unlikely optimism, Henderson doesn't elide dark truths... Wisely, [he] combines approaches... [This book] tours nature's brilliance in light of honest science’ James Guida

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