Published in Moscow by Raduga in 1984, translated from the Russian into English by Raissa Bobrova, “Man and Animals” is an out-of-print book on man’s relationship with animals through the ages. I recently spotted the unforgettable cover featuring a giraffe, a sea serpent or kraken, a mythical Arabian Nights type bird (Rukh) carrying an elephant, a schooner, a butterfly and an anachronistic helicopter, on an Ebay listing for “Rare and antiquarian literature”. Though I was tempted to buy it, the book wasn’t cheap at thirty dollars. A brief search later, I found it on Amazon for four dollars and it is now sitting on my bookshelf, between a Harry Potter and a Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Like many Russian titles from the Soviet Era, the author remains largely mysterious; is he a zoologist, a wild life writer or just someone who happens to love animals? The back cover is blank, except for a small sticker in the bottom left that has the letters, “Imported Publications” on it with an Illinois address underneath. In this post-glasnost era, there still exists a limited market for Soviet relics, including Fairy Tale Books, Matryoshka dolls, communist propaganda and other items that are slowly vanishing into obscurity. As a result, thousands of excellent Russian books on a variety of subjects from Mathematics to Culture have been relegated to flotsam after a wreckage.
“One book is not really enough to tell about the many different relationships between Man and animals. Nor have I tried to embrace the subject in its entirety. I wrote this book for children, striving, above all, to make them understand how important it is to know, love and protect animals”.
Indeed, the author’s passion is manifest on every page. In lucid prose, he brings together history, zoology and anthropology, re-iterating how dependent man has been on animals for survival. Almost encyclopedic in scope, the book is rich in content, including in its pages prehistoric cave paintings, animal legends, Gerald Durell, Martha-the last passenger pigeon, the coelacanth and numerous black and white photographs, drawings and reproductions so that even if a child was reluctant to read, it could spend hours staring at the pictures, like I once did.