The taxonomy of birds being constantly in flux, there is never the perfect time to commit an overview to print. This volume, however, is an impeccable exposition of the state of play. In their 20-page introduction, the authors acknowledge that there is much still to be understood about the relationships and boundaries between taxa but argue that recent explorations of bird systematics are resulting in far more consensus than debate. Nevertheless, theirs is just one of several conflicting versions of bird taxonomy now current.
There are 243 extant bird families, they say, each of which is described within the covers of a work that matches HBW for format and production quality. Most have a page or less of text, covering plumage and structure, habitat, food, breeding, conservation and systematics. The sections on relationships explore the current uncertainties fully and are often the longest – they are comprehensively referenced and quite technical, though the terms used are explained in the introduction. There are several top-class photos for each family and every genus within the family is illustrated by a painting. The artwork is from HBW but often resized or flipped: in my copies the printing standard is higher even than the HBW original. Where an order of birds has more than one family, there is also an introductory page for the order, although these deal more exclusively with systematics.
The subtitle invites us to the spectacular diversity of birds. The book being so splendidly illustrated, it does indeed provide spectacle on every page and can thoroughly be recommended as an introduction to the world of birds. Some readers might be frustrated, though, by the lack of information at species level that can be found in most other books about birds. Text at family level suits a more refined palate but will appeal to the more knowledgeable world birder and provide authoritative reference for students of ornithology, phylogeny and evolution.