The last twelve months have been good for print publications. Here are two books you’ll definitely want to seek out...
The Bichir Handbook
Author: Joshua Pickett
List price: £25
Bibliophiles will recognise Joshua Pickett as the designer behind Ivan Mikolji’s recent ‘Fishes of the Orinoco’ project.
This time, being his own boss, Joshua’s creative brakes are off, resulting in a book with astonishing design values.
The book is built around a single theme, and that theme is bichirs (buh-sheer, as is clarified at the start) and remains true to that throughout, never digressing or straying from the polypterids at hand.
As soon as you open it up you’re hit with additional treats — a two-sided Polypterus poster and a bookmark that doubles as a checklist to record all of the species you’ve kept yourself. If you’ve bought directly from the website, you may have a signature from the author, too.
With such focused subject matter, you might be worried that the book has lots of unnecessary fleshing out and repetition, but the reality is that Joshua has assembled what is possibly the single most comprehensive work on this family of fish.
After the foreword, Joshua leaps straight into the story of bichirs, from their origins and taxonomic relationships into anatomy, physiology and reproduction, laying out the path for a thorough background understanding of who these fish really are.
Next, he delves into the practicality of aquarium keeping and care, leaving no stone unturned. Substrate choices for individual species, dietary specifics, compatibility, disease issues and even the ethics and sustainability of sourcing are all covered in-depth and comprehensively. Joshua’s flair for design comes to the fore throughout, with an abundance of easy-to-read charts peppering the pages. One masterstroke among many is a size comparison chart (shown below), a visual tool that offers a simple reference to the adult mass of the different species.
The main body of the book is then given over to species profiles, each delightfully illustrated by Dorian Noel, himself an ichthyologist in training, and as an illustrative guide, it is unrivalled.
Species are categorised according to their phylogenetic relationships and addressed one group at a time, species by species, and as well as copy for each, a selection of consistent infographic tools are used to rate them for criteria like activity, growth rates and territoriality.
This work has been carefully considered, and it’s difficult to take for granted the amount of time and effort that has gone into its creation.
Beyond species specifics, there’s even a section on extinct but related species, including a true dinosaur of the order, measuring just shy of 10ft. No matter how much you think you know on the bichirs, I guarantee that you will learn something about them in this majestic book, and I can only hope for all our sakes that Joshua decides to pit his awesome design and journalistic talents to use on more publications in the future. A triumphal book, and a must-have for any fan of these fascinating jurassic oddballs.
A step-by-step guide to planting, styling and maintaining beautiful aquariums
Author: George Farmer
List price: £14.99
It would be fair to say that George Farmer revolutionised the way that PFK approached aquascaping. As a long-time contributor, his features are always as visually pleasing as they are accessible, and it was only a matter of time — and perhaps long overdue — that his work was amassed in a wider tome.
While it’s cliché to say that a book can be ‘for everyone’, George has managed it. I scanned the copy twice, once with the mindset of someone completely naïve to planted aquaria, and the other as myself, someone who understands the technical details of aquascaping intimately.
In the first read, I felt carried, nurtured, as the copy gently walked me through the fundamentals as well as the nuances of ‘scaping. In the second, I went in critically, in full pedant mode. The information George offers is robust, uncontentious and accurate. On top of that, I learnt a lot.
For your 200 pages (minus a few blanks at the end) you get ten chapters: How to get started; Lighting; Filtration, Circulation and heating; Feeding aquarium plants;
The importance of carbon dioxide; How to aquascape; Hardscape; Choosing, preparing and maintaining aquarium plants; How to choose your fish, shrimp and snails; Maintenance.
There are also appendices, showcasing a few different popular aquaria as step-by-step aquascape projects, and aquarium plant lists.
Anyone familiar with George’s writing will have an idea of what to expect, and true to style, he doesn’t hide behind unnecessary technical terms, baffling formulae, or unobtainable and esoteric equipment. Indeed, the whole work seems steeped in ‘real world’ materials that you can acquire either locally or online, and even when mentioning advanced gear like PAR meters, George offers easily sourced alternatives to lab-grade gear. It’s equally a delight to see that George’s suggestions are budget conscious —he recognises that not everyone is out for the exclusivity that comes with expensive ADA-calibre hardware and instead caters to a wide range of price points. It’s an especially wallet-friendly read.
There are plenty of boxes of information in addition to the main body, including brief discussions of commonly asked questions — ‘Is reverse osmosis water worth it?’ for example. There’s little in the way of preamble, with George getting straight into the hands-on of aquascaping and only including a few key charts as necessary. His discussion of the ‘pH differential method’ of carbon dioxide is one of the best I’ve seen in print, and this degree of competence is repeated throughout the book. George has had many years to hone his craft, and his streamlined ‘to-the-heart-of-the-matter’ approach to instruction reflects this as much as his deserved authoritative stance.
If I had but one criticism, it would be something that is outside of his control. George has a considerable pedigree of capturing unrivalled photographs of aquascapes, and there’s even a passage dedicated to improving your own pictures with a smartphone. But it appears that at the final stages of the book’s production some of these images have come out quite dark, eating into the detail of them.
That’s far from a problem though, and there’s still a majority of images where this hasn’t happened, making the finished publication as visually enjoyable as it is eloquently written.