Saturday, 5 February 2011

Review: Moa Sightings by Bruce Spittle.

Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Paua Press Limited; 1st edition (January 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0473153564
ISBN-13: 978-0473153564

ISBN-10: 0473153572
ISBN-13: 978-0473153571

ISBN-10: 0473153580
ISBN-13: 978-0473153588

Once in a while, I get my hands on a book which makes me think “why on earth don’t more people write like this”? Most cryptozoological books are, basically, rubbish. Yes, there are a number of great books out there, but an awful lot just rehash previously covered stories, or dive into the paranormal and sensationalism to increase sales. This book is about as far removed as one can get from these works of tripe.

Split across three volumes, “Moa Sightings” is a real behemoth which, due to its high price tag, will not sell many copies. But anyone with a great interest in moas or New Zealand’s cryptozoology should sell a portion of the family silver and buy the whole set. In five words, the three books are incredible.

Hardback with full colour printing throughout, the books are very high quality indeed. The front cover, I feel, looks a little basic, but that really does not matter. Upon opening the book, you are greeted to a wonderful range of maps (there are probably hundreds of maps between the three volumes), portraits and biographies of most of the witnesses, drawings of skeletons and huge numbers of photographs of the areas in which the sightings occurred. This is a book which draws you into New Zealand. The maps and photographs help you picture the areas vividly in your mind; whilst the long and detailed discussions of each sighting help you assess the circumstances in which the sighting event occurred.

The analysis of the Freaney photograph for instance is 283 pages long. That is enough for a book alone on the photograph. Though the analysis is generally very thorough, and the photographs clear, I would have liked to have seen more photo measurement analysis, perhaps comparing the measurements and angles to a deer. This is a slight weak link in the book, and because of this it does not change my opinion that the photograph shows a young red deer, but in reality, this is pretty much the only negative point (and it did really make me consider my initial opinion). If Mr. Spittle published his analysis of the Freaney photograph as a separate, much smaller and more affordable book, I think he would do the world of cryptozoology a huge favour.

This book then is exactly how cryptozoology should be done. Has is changed my opinion on the Freaney photograph? No. Has it changed my opinion that there are no large (4ft tall+) species of moa still alive? No, I remain sure that they are extinct. Has it changed my opinion that there are no small species of moa still alive? Sort of I suppose; I think there is a high chance they lived until the 1800’s, but I don’t think there are any left alive.

To finish this review then, I am going to quote Mr. Spittle on why he formed Paua Press Limited in 2007: “Just as a paua [Haliotis, a species of New Zealand abalone] appears dull and nondescript on the outside but is of compelling interest when the surface dross is taken away, I am hopeful that the books my press publishes will have, at their centre, something of substance for the reader.” He is absolutely correct, this is an incredible book, “On The Track...” for moa enthusiasts. For God’s sake ask for it as a birthday present...