A Diver's Guide to Reef Life is an amazing reference guide detailing 1200 tropical species from the Caribbean to the Indo-Pacific. With over 1300 eye-popping photos, the book covers everything from corals to mammals, from reptiles to bony fish. More than just a photo album with lots of pretty pictures, the Ferraris write with as much authority on the skeletal components of coral polyps, for example, as they do on a shark's countershading. If you can rip yourself away from the crazy kaleidoscope of images, you'll find the engaging text to thoroughly yet concisely explain how cnidoblasts inject their nematocysts; what influences a coral colony's structure; and how calcareous spicules support soft corals. Don't worry if you don't know all the jargon before you crack the spine of this fabulous book. The Ferraris explain everything, and after spending a few minutes with A Diver's Guide, you'll understand plenty.
After a brief introduction that explains what a coral reef is and how you can protect it, the book sinks its teeth into Chondorichthyes -- cartilagionous fishes that include sharks and rays. Throughout the book, each creature profiled gets a snapshot and a detailed description that includes distribution, size, habitat, and "life habits." Thoughtfully, the Ferraris also provide underwater photo tips specific to many of the families, so you can come home with photos as brilliant as those in the book. After cartilagionous fishes, the Ferraris detail bony fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods, reptiles, and mammals. They even cover the "topside reef" and discuss some of the animals lurking along the sandy shoreline outside your dive lodge.
The Ferraris decided to throw in some bonus sections, as well. One of the sections, "Zoom," spotlights a general group of animals, or a certain technique that groups of animals have adopted (think: camouflage or schooling). Other sections, like the "Galleries," are fan-tabulous photo essays featuring, for example, hard corals, sponges, sea squirts, sea shells, flatworms, nudibranchs, and the super-intriguing "Strange Reef Creatures." These Galleries strip away the textual descriptions of the animals and provide luscious eye-candy showcasing the color variations found among species (I LOVED the scorpionfish headshots!). The colors are so rich and the details are so amazing in these photos, that you'll wonder if this is a taxonomic guide or an underwater photography how-to. Oh...that's right...it's both!
Underwater photographers will find A Diver's Guide useful for several reasons. First, the photo tips the Ferraris include should help divers increase the quality and size of their personal portfolios. Second, even only a few minutes with the book will provide the underwater photographer with an understanding of what kind of marine life is likely to be found in a given location. This doesn't just mean "in the Red Sea," though; since the Ferraris provide information about where on the reef an animal is likely to be. Third, A Diver's Guide will help photographers label their images correctly. Fourth, some of the tips -- while not directly related to imaging -- may be wise for the underwater photographer to bear in mind anyway. For example, the inexperienced photographer might be less inclined to wag a finger in front of an uncooperative pufferfish after reading that they "are quite capable of severing a human finger."
Inevitably, readers will compare A Diver's Guide to Paul Humann's Reef Fish books. While they're similar in many respects, I think A Diver's Guide is far more beautiful. Frankly, the Ferraris have produced a guidebook that's as much for browsing as it is for referencing. As proof, I submit to you my non-diving wife. As soon as she saw the book on the counter, she grabbed it, sat down, and began leafing through it. Every 20 seconds or so, she'd mutter, "Oooh, have you ever seen a [insert name of fish] before?" She was totally rapt by the images.
Sure, you could buy a local marine life guide covering the specific area you might be diving next Christmas, but no marine guide in the world will excite you with this much color, thrill you with this much variety, and fascinate you with this much information. This is an absolute must-have for any diver who has eyes and plans on using them while diving.