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  Book review

Socotra: A Natural History of the Islands and their People 

by Catherine Cheung and Lyndon DeVantier; Science Editor: Kay Van Damme. Forewords by Dr Abdelkareem Al Eryani and Dr Edoardo Zandri.

Published for the Socotra Conservation Fund by Odyssey Books & Guides, Hong Kong, 2006. Pp. 404. Illus. Index. Glossary. Annex. Hb. £39. 50. ISBN-13: 978-962-217-770-3. 

As leader of the Oxford Expedition to Socotra in 1956, I awaited the publication of this book with eager anticipation. When an advance copy finally arrived at my door, I was quite frankly spellbound by what the authors, who spent three years on the island with the Socotra Biodiversity Project, had achieved. I had not expected such a magnificently presented, richly illustrated and so wide-ranging and exhaustively researched a volume as this. A notable feature is the inclusion of Arabic abstracts for each of its ten chapters covering the geology, flora, fauna, birds, marine world, history, people, culture and case studies. 

It is without doubt the definitive study of the unique natural history of this extraordinary island: whether at ground level, above ground, below ground, or in the depths of the surrounding sea. And the range of its illustrations – from close-ups of widow spiders and paper wasps to wide-angle panoramas of the ancient landscape and its oceanic setting, together with pictures of Socotrans past and present – is unsurpassed. But the book is not only the definitive study of the Socotra archipelago, it is a synthesis and treasure house of the combined knowledge of various researchers during the last decade, whose contribution Catherine Cheung and Lyndon DeVantier fully and warmly acknowledge. The book is also unsurpassed as a celebration of Socotra’s uniquely precious heritage, and as a rallying cry for its understanding and conservation. 

Perhaps only two other books are comparable as milestones in Western scholarship on Socotra, and as volumes to prize for their invaluable text and superb illustrations: Dr Henry Forbes’ pioneering The Natural History of Sokotra and Abd el-Kuri (1903) and, more recently, Dr Anthony Miller’s and Dr Miranda Morris’s Ethnoflora of the Soqotra Archipelago (2004). If you value Socotra’s unique biodiversity, you will treasure this book, which is available in the UK from the NHBS Environment Bookshop (tel: 01803 865913; www. nhbs. com). 

Douglas Botting