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Natural Cuba natural

Rating: *****

Language: English and Spanish (review is on English only)
Author: Alfonso Silva Lee
Publisher: Pangaea, St. Paul, MN, USA, 1996

"Cuba is not a simple lump of ground, with mounds here and there, but a magical green-and-blue habitat, crowded with singular life forms." -- Alfonso Silva Lee

Natural Cuba natural, by Alfonso LeeI can't think of a better Christmas gift for ecotourists, students or nature-lovers than this Cuban biologist's 192-page book. An exquisite tome that records for posterity Cuba's densely populated world of flora and fauna, Natural Cuba natural makes you sit up and take note of things that don't always meet the eye. And it's a clear message to developers to watch where they tread.

The first book in some 150 years to record Cuba's natural history, Natural Cuba natural emphasizes what an ecological treasure Cuba is and underlines the importance of its preservation. Lee takes you through the fragile underbrush, crystal waters and cerulean skies in words and pictures, describing in loving detail the tiniest gems to the biggest treasures. Feather-duster worms. Cuban painted tree snails. Bee hummingbirds. Fluorescent sponges. Mangrove swamps and royal palms. Cuban crocodiles and insectivores.

Lee also weaves in history, geography and amusing anecdotes. "In the daily lexicon [of Cuba]," he writes, "the word caimán (crocodile) is used to describe the person who combines cunningness with deceit, while caguama (loggerhead turtle) and tonina (bottlenose dolphin) are for hefty women."

In a universe cluttered with sloppy translations, poorly published marketing materials and hideous imagery, this hard-cover Spanish-English combination is a breath of fresh air. Two easy-to-follow columns -- with lots of white space and friendly fonts -- interspersed with images of National-Geographic and Audubon-Society quality, make this a rare treat for the eyes. While the subject is complex, the language is relatively simple and easy to understand. A handy appendix and index help you find what you want when you want it.

"It is impossible to overestimate the urgency for protecting Cuba's indigenous flora and fauna," states Lee. "The 60,000 miraculous beings known to live on Cuba and in its coastal waters are all interconnected by an intricate web of dependencies and interactions." And he's convinced me that "guaranteeing the temporal permanence of this phenomenal expression of life...is fundamental, imperative."

Alfonso Silva Lee has written ten books on the life forms in the Greater Antilles, and published more than 50 scientific and magazine articles since he became dedicated to this subject 25 years ago. For more on the author, visit http://pangaea.org/authors_pangaea/silva.htm

Natural Cuba natural is available in hardcover and paperback at bookstores everywhere.

Want to read more about Cuba? Go to our "Destinations & Experiences" section on Cuba.

Ratings guidelines:

***** Can't imagine a better job
**** Good, but could be improved
*** Close, but no cigar
** Mediocre and hopefully cheap
* Don't waste your time