Book Review: Bestiary

bestiary cover


Written by Christopher Masters

256 pages

Published by Thames & Hudson in collaboration with the British Museum

Publication date: 16th October 2018

Summary (from Goodreads):

Drawing on the world-leading scholarship and vast collections of the British Museum, Bestiary is a wonderful visual, thematic exploration of animals—real, surreal, and imaginary—as depicted on beautiful ritual objects and works of art. Famous masterpieces mix with little-seen artifacts from every age and around the globe.

Arranged thematically into five chapters (wild, domestic, exotic, symbolic, and hybrids and mythical creatures), this book depicts animals in intelligent pairings and groupings of images that encourage the reader to find and learn the cultural context and connections between the origins of many different civilizations. An ancient Egyptian bronze divine cat sits next to a nineteenth-century print of English domestic feline bliss; a miniature Ice Age mammoth sits with an ancient engraved drawing of a horse; a Minoan acrobat leaps onto the back of a 3,500-year-old bull.

Art historian Christopher Masters is a wonderfully clear and informative guide, illuminating familiar masterpieces and bringing lesser-known treasures into the light. This book will enchant animal lovers and gift buyers, as well as appealing to curious general readers and offering inspiration to the creative imagination.

The depictions of animals throughout this book reflect fundamental developments that have taken place over time, and around the globe, in the relationship between humanity and the natural world. However, as our themes show, there are remarkable links to be made between images from wholly different cultures and periods, as well as sharp distinctions within civilizations.

First impressions: I ooahed and aahed when this arrived in the post. The book is heavy, yet compact and I love the cover illustration. Inside the animals are arranged into chapters organised by theme e.g. ‘mythological’ creatures or ‘domestic’ animals. I can already tell that this is going to be a new favourite!

This book is simply beautiful!
I knew that I had to read this as soon as I saw the subject matter. The British Museum and Thames and Hudson always produce beautiful books and this is no exception. The book is small, but hefty, full of gorgeous full-page photographs picking out details of artwork and artefacts showing animals. In picking out each of these objects and organising them roughly into themes rather than countries, this book illuminates links between countries and cultures and shines alight on the human relationship with animals through to ages, from objects of worship and veneration to sources of food or other resources.
This is a fascinating book which has made me want to go back to the British Museum to view these objects again!


What I liked: The beautiful high-quality images, the thematic organization which pulls out interesting comparisons and illuminates connections that I might otherwise have missed, the variety of objects included and the level of information provided; there is enough here to capture your interest, but it never feels overwhelming.

Even better if: Couldn’t be improved, except perhaps with a short concluding chapter to sum up everything from the previous chapters.

How you could use it in your classroom: This would be a brilliant addition to any classroom and you are sure to find readers of any age poring over the glorious photographs and coming up with interesting tidbits of information they have picked up from flicking through. It is possible to read this in order, or to dip in a chapter at a time. I will be adding this to my growing collection of bestiaries, which we use when learning about mythological creatures and writing our own Greek Myths! This book would be a lovely prequel or follow-up to a trip to the British Museum to actually see some of these incredible artefacts.

(Thank you to Thames & Hudson for my review copy – I love it!)

This has been one of my reads for #Nonfiction November.

What are you planning to read this month?

While you’re here, why not check out my reviews of I Wore My Blackest Hair, Home Sweet Home, The Day War Came, Distortion or The Light Between Worlds?

Find me on Twitter , Goodreads or Instagram

Thanks for reading!

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Thanks for the review. I have a copy too and love the format. It’s like a nose into the collection, but it is also an insightful commentary into the way we have communicated the world around us over the centuries. Brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It made me want to go back to the British Museum to revisit some of the items in the collection, looking at them from a new perspective. Lovely book!

      Liked by 1 person

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