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The Secret Life of Animals (Dutton, $24.95 until January, $29.95 thereafter) is aimed at the enlightened amateur, and any family would be wise to give the book to itself for Christmas. It is essentially an overview of many of the pioneering discoveries in animal behavior and has some of the obvious disadvantages of an overview—you end up knowing a little about a whole lot, for one. But sources are amply cited in the text, and the curious reader could spend years following the cues. Franklin Russell joined in the writing (the other authors are Lorus and Margery Milne), and many will remember his exquisite Watchers at the Pond.
The text, though, is overwhelmed by hundreds of fine color photos. A sequence showing mating lions taken by Fran Allan is stunning. And there are photos of wolves at play, an anaconda crushing a cayman, a dolphin being born, migrating reindeer, an aqua-green python protecting its eggs. They are accompanied by explanations so that the reader doesn't have to wander around looking for the sense behind the beauty of the photograph, the bane of most snazzy books of this sort.
There is a natural, though decidedly comic, tendency on the part of a reader of this book to make elaborate comparisons between his own behavior and that of the animals. Ardrey's The Territorial Imperative is reason enough for having a closet full of guns. After all, it's natural. But so is the 60-foot tapeworm in the belly of a wild pig. The female mantis happily devours her husband while he mates with her. Within a few minutes he has vanished into her belly. We'll leave that one for Tennessee Williams. Wolves are monogamous, lions aren't. That's a draw. Hyenas turn out to be fabulous hunters, a fact that consoled me because I developed an affection for them when I was in Africa. Some animal mothers protect their children, others apparently couldn't care less. Elephants and wolves have developed a strategic sort of birth control, depending on available food supplies. Other animals propagate witlessly. No animals drink booze or smoke.
We are reminded again in a chapter on migration that scientists don't yet know everything, though they are bearing down hard on this subject. That monarch butterfly fluttering so gracefully in your yard is probably in transit from Canada to Mexico or back, depending on the season. The hummingbird only uses 1.3 grams of fat to fly across 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico, surely a preposterously efficient use of energy.
What I like best about The Secret Life of Animals is the inclusive imagination of the approach. In my youth the teaching of life sciences was so segmented I remained largely ignorant of the particularities of the natural world until my late 20s. This is the kind of book that helps the tardy starter.
Nothing delights a tennis player more than a new gadget. And the best one this Christmas comes from Howard Head, who popularized the metal ski a quarter of a century ago. Subsequently the company he headed was sold to AMF for more than $16 million. Head's new racket appears under the Prince label; he is now chairman of the board of that firm. Soon there will be locker-room talk about an increase in the polar moment of inertia, and the center of percussion will mean something other than the position of Ringo's pedal. Prepare yourself for other phrases like the high coefficient of restitution. Not since the yellow ball has anything so novel hit the tennis world.
If people played tennis with their eyes shut, everything about the Prince would seem normal. It feels the same as other rackets, but only the length and balance are standard. The Prince makes a conventional racket look like a runt. Its head is so much larger that a buyer might be tempted to invest in nylon stock. The string area dwarfs the handle and is two inches wider than the typical racket; the space between the strings becomes smaller toward the center. These elements create an odd-looking but surprisingly effective racket that goes on sale for the first time this week at specialty stores—Court Set, New York City; Gart Brothers Sporting Goods, Denver; San Francisco Sporting House; Osborn and Ulland, Seattle. The price is $65.
Until Head joined Prince in 1971, the firm's only interest in tennis was in manufacturing ball machines. Head brought the company the skills and designing curiosity that led him to make the first successful metal skis. "Why must metal be restricted by the limitations of wood?" he had asked.
Head could find no regulations determining a tennis racket's size, but he also sensed that the average player would never swing something that did not feel like a racket. So he kept the balance the same. If the racket happened to look funny that would be to its advantage. It would begin life as a novelty.