Book review: On Rare Birds by Anita Albus

ON RARE BIRDS BY Anita Albus Saraband, £19.95 ****

THIS is a bookseller's nightmare: where is so ebulliently uncategorisable a title to be shelved? Science, art, literature, history … ? Wherever it is, it's a reader's delight. It's also a joy for anyone who loves fine art, fine birds or both, bringing together plates from historic painters and engravers – and, a real revelation, from Albus herself. The visual and the verbal are equally important to this German artist – but then hers is a creativity for which everything interconnects; and for which, more specifically, a crisis in conservation is a crisis in human thought. She is among authors drawn to the work of the old natural scientists and their lack of drive to compartmentalise, to separate out the sciences from the humanities, or to develop a different sense of wonder. Albus quotes poet Paul Valry: "The more I look at you, animal, the more I become man in spirit."