American edition. Illustrated in color and b&w with virtually every known image of this extinct species. 448 pp.
Three hundred years ago, for a few weeks each year, Icelandic seafarers could marvel at hordes of great auks as they waddled ashore. By 1850, the bird was extinct. Painter and amateur natural historian Fuller (The Lost Birds of Paradise) has produced a weighty and beautiful tome on the auk (also known as the garefowl), its natural history and its posthumous life in the human imagination. The auk's head alone merits, and receives, several pages of images and explanations: a grooved, fish-shaped beak, hazel eyes and a patch of white between them gave the bird an awkward, forlorn dignity--while its upright walk made it rare visual kin to the penguin. Unable to flee marauding Icelanders, the last known pair of auks were killed for food on a tiny island in 1844. After its extinction, the auk became improbably famous among urbane 19th-century readers, who made it (along with the dodo) a byword for extinction. Stuffed auks and auk eggs (and fakes of both) sold for high sums, while trading cards, cigarettes and whiskey bore the name and image of the dead bird. Fuller devotes about half his volume to a verbal and pictorial catalogue of the 78 known stuffed great auks, along with the 75 surviving eggs. Among the shorter sections are two describing the islands and the people who matter most to the garefowls' sad story. Over 200 color and 200 black and white illustrations include paintings, engravings and photographs of stuffed models displaying the enigmatic species. -Publishers Weekly