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Good Reads  Mammals  Anteaters, Sloths & Armadillos

Sloths! A Celebration of the World's Most Misunderstood Mammal

Popular Science Nature Writing
By: William Hartston(Author)
222 pages, 24 plates with colour photos and b/w illustrations; b/w illustrations
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Entertaining and informative, this book is the only primer currently on the market and gives a well-rounded picture of sloths and slothdom.
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  • Sloths! ISBN: 9781786494252 Paperback Oct 2019 Not in stock: Usually dispatched within 1 week
  • Sloths! ISBN: 9781786494221 Hardback Oct 2018 Out of Print #241189
Selected version: £10.99
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About this book

In public estimation and scientific investigations, sloths have undergone an astonishing transformation in the course of the past few years. Thanks largely to YouTube clips posted by the sloth orphanage in Costa Rica, sloths have attracted a vast audience of admirers. No longer are they seen as total misfits in the modern world but, in the words of one specialist sloth investigator, they are "masters of the alternative lifestyle".

This fascinating book will cover the history of sloths, from the prehistoric ground sloth to modern pygmy sloths in Panama, the current state of the science of sloths and will reveal the truth behind sloth behaviour.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • An entertaining and informative primer on sloths
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 25 Jan 2019 Written for Hardback

    When I picked up this book and saw the subtitle, I couldn’t help but think: “What?? Sloths, maligned?” Just look at them! How is that face not adorable? Where the sloth’s timeline is concerned, I have been swept up in what is only a recent widespread appreciation of sloths. Clearly, this wasn’t always the case. Why else name an animal after a cardinal sin…

    Author William Hartston, a mathematician and psychologist, has written a string of chess and trivia books and so might not seem like the logical choice to write a book about sloths. But, as he shows admirably here, as long you are fascinated with a topic and willing to dive into it and talk to experts, that matters little. Just add a little water, no biologist required.

    Sloths! is a slim but entertaining introduction to sloths. If you have ever read one of the many books in the Animal series from Reaktion Books you know what to expect: an accessible mixture of history, biology, and culture. Coincidentally, there is no volume on sloths in this series, and, well, it looks like they have missed the boat now.

    Hartston has talked to various sloth researchers and here surveys recent scientific literature. In fifteen short chapters, he walks the reader through the sloth’s evolutionary history, the five currently extant species, their basic biology, anatomy, diet, and conservation. Obviously, a book of this calibre answers such questions as “Does it fart?” (not really, it burps more than it farts), “Does it poop?” (yes, but not as often as you might think), or “How do they have sex?” (other than slowly, we do not really know, it has barely been observed).

    Just because I bring up these trivia-favourites, do not think this book is all puerile. Hartston’s excursion into the history of the sloth’s entrance into the European scientific literature is very interesting. It is remarkable how some of the big names in natural history such as Cuvier and Comte de Buffon, based on second-hand information, described the sloth as a wretched, dismal creature. It is true, being part of the superorder Xenarthra, they have unusual joints. When encountered at ground level, rather than hanging upside down from a branch, they are like a fish out of water. They can indeed not walk but have to drag themselves around. But that does not mean they are not supremely adapted to their habitat.

    It was not until the London Zoo was gifted a sloth from the Dublin Zoo that the sloth was rehabilitated in the English literature. More recently, it is thanks to the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica and researchers such as Lucy Cooke and Lucy Houliston who founded the Sloth Appreciation Society that the sloth has exploded into popular consciousness. Although raising the sloth’s profile, this comes at a price. The Sloth Sanctuary has been criticised by former employees, and the animal’s popularity has led to other shelters popping up that capture wild sloths so that tourists can take cute pictures with them. Needless to say, you are best off trying to observe animals in the wild only. Any such local tourist trap, whether it concerns sloths or other animals, is highly likely best avoided, unless you have done your background research. But I digress.

    There are surprisingly few books published on sloths. Besides some children’s books, there have recently only been a few photographic books – Cooke’s Life in the Sloth Lane: Slow Down and Smell the Hibiscus (more of a mindfulness book) and Rebecca Cliffe’s Sloths: Life in the Slow Lane – which are thin on written content. At the other end, you are looking at some academic tomes that are quite old: Goffart’s Function and Form in the Sloth was published in 1971. More general, but very expensive, is Vizcaino & Loughry’s 2008 book The Biology of the Xenarthra. After that you would already have to turn to general wildlife encyclopedias such as the recent Walker's Mammals of the World: Monotremes, Marsupials, Afrotherians, Xenarthrans, and Sundatherians or HMW 8: Insectivores, Sloths and Colugos.

    This book, then, fills a sloth-sized gap in the market. Entertaining, informative, very reasonably priced, and perfectly giftable.
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William Hartston is a Cambridge-educated mathematician, an international chess master and the author of The Things That Nobody Knows and Even More Things That Nobody Knows. He now writes the off-beat Beachcomber column for the Daily Express and is a viewer on Channel 4's Gogglebox.

Popular Science Nature Writing
By: William Hartston(Author)
222 pages, 24 plates with colour photos and b/w illustrations; b/w illustrations
Publisher: Atlantic Books
Entertaining and informative, this book is the only primer currently on the market and gives a well-rounded picture of sloths and slothdom.
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