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"The sometimes unsettling encounter with a real flesh-and-blood specimen of an animal--or, for that matter, the absence of one--is a recurring literary conceit at the beginning of many volumes of the series. . . . In each of the books, the writers frequently mine the nervous roles of tiptoeing birdwatchers or greedy hungers lying in wait for the big game that may never appear. Prosaically, the device . . . underscores that the books in the series are above all essays, and personal ones at that, penned less frequently by professional animal specialists than by interested scholars from literary and history fields; their tone eschews the dry cant and summary overview of the encyclopedia."