Bear, Paperback
4 out of 5 (1 rating)


Few animals are as closely associated with humans as bears.

From the Greek legend of "Callisto" to "Winnie-the-Pooh", bears have throughout history been a rich source of imagery, myth, story and legend. "Bear" begins 25 million years ago with 'dawn bear', the small dog-sized ancestor of all bears.

Tracing the evolution of the bear family, the author discusses extinct types, such as the cave bear and the giant short-faced bear, as well as describing in detail the eight species that exist today.

Several of these species are now facing extinction, and the book considers the impact of current human behaviour on bears and their environments. "Bear" explores the bear-human relationship and how human perceptions of bears have changed over time.

Drawing from cultures around the world, it discusses the various legends and myths, including the ceremonies and taboos that surround hunting, killing and eating bears.

It also looks at representations of bears in contemporary culture: as the subjects of stories, songs, cartoons and films; as exhibits in pits, circuses and zoos; and also as toys. The book concludes by considering the precarious future of the bear, threatened as it is by loss of habitats, disease, pollution, global warming and poaching for the medicinal trade. "Bear" will appeal to all those interested in the past, present and future of these extraordinary creatures.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192 pages, 44 black & white illustrations, 56 colour illustrations
  • Publisher: Reaktion Books
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Animals & nature in art
  • ISBN: 9781861892041



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I've read of a few of the Reaktion Series books and this is my favourite so far.<br/><br/>As usual for the series, it starts with a brief overview of the evolutionary history of the subject, then an overview of extant species and then a sketch of human cultural interactions and portrayals. This one also rounds off with a look at the precarious status of the seven remaining bear species, most of which are teetering on the brink of extinction, and the one species that isn't is classed as threatened (as at publication date of 2005).<br/><br/>This format is a good one, but due to the relative slimness of the books, and the copious illustrations, the degree of depth is variable depending upon the scope which it has to cover. I was rather disappointed in this regard with <i>Spider</i>, which just had too many species of spiders and their varying ecological niches to deal with properly. However, the present volume is able to provide a reasonable layman's guide to the rather smaller number of bears still around.<br/><br/>The folklore and mythology chapter was very interesting, showing that human attitudes towards bears are quite similar around the world, with most cultures feeling that people and bears can interchange and, to some extent, are actually the same species.<br/><br/>After dealing with our love for bears in literature, as teddy bear toys and with some of the products that seek to associate themselves with this affectionate symbol, the author certainly didn't shy away from our incredible cruelty towards real bears. The photographs of bear-baiting in Pakistan in 1997 are gruesomely brutal, and the photograph and descriptions of bear gall-bladder farming in the Far East in 2002 are heart-rending.<br/><br/>The final section is about the global conservation efforts being mounted to protect the viability of bear populations, their habitats and larger ecosystems, notably from corrupt or venal politicians and their corporate interests, in both Western and Eastern economies.<br/><br/>As usual, at the back of the book there is an "animal timeline," bibliography, textual notes, a list of bear-related organisations and website address and an index. Also as usual, the book is very well out together with high quality paper which really does justice to the beautiful illustrations, most of which are in colour.<br/><br/>Now I need to decide which of the series to read next: an iconic animal like the <i>Wolf</i>, or somemething a bit more leftfield, such as the <i>Eel</i>. Hmmm, decisions....

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