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Dale Peterson examines the lives of giraffes

Karl Ammann

A rare breed

For 30 years, Dale Peterson, a resident of Arlington, has traveled to where the wild things are. Most of the 18 books he has written are about animals and Africa, his best-known work being the definitive biography “Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man” (Houghton Mifflin).

For his new book, “Giraffe Reflections” (University of California), he observed giraffes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, and Namibia. Peterson highlights the work of Anne Innis, who is the Jane Goodall of giraffes. Innis, who grew up in Toronto, became fascinated with giraffes after seeing one in a Chicago zoo when she was a girl. In the mid-1950s, no Westerner had yet conducted an extended behavioral study in Africa of wild animals. Innis was the first. A farmer in South Africa told her she could stay on his land so she could observe giraffes. (He initially thought that A.C. Innis was a “he,” but didn’t rescind his offer of lodging when she corrected his assumption.)

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Innis got right to work when she arrived in 1956. She dissected a giraffe that had been shot, finding, she reported, “about a hundred pounds of small twigs and ‘guck.’ ” She filmed giraffes to study their biomechanics. She discovered that male giraffes judge the fertility of females by swallowing their urine. And, Peterson writes, Innis “may have been the first field zoologist to note homosexual behavior in any animal.”

“Giraffe Reflections” is a rare breed in that it excels both as a photography book and a work of natural history. Karl Ammann’s photographs are riveting, but so is Peterson’s text. Each enhances the other. Ammann has captured motherly love as well as sparring and fighting, including what Peterson calls “a kind of giraffe jujitsu.” Prior to each sequence of photographs, Peterson describes what lies ahead so the reader can examine the images without the distraction of captions.

A fellow this year at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Peterson kicks off the fall series at Harvard’s Museum of Natural History in Cambridge with a talk, free with museum admission, at 2 p.m. Sept. 15.

Crosby family saga continues

Paul Harding, author of “Tinkers” (Bellevue Literary) and winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, will launch his new novel, “Enon” (Random House) at the Harvard Coop at 7 p.m. Sept. 10. “Enon” chronicles a year in the life of Charlie Crosby as he faces tragedy. Crosby is the grandson of George Crosby, the dying New Englander who is the main character in “Tinkers.” Tickets for the launch are $22.10, which includes a signed copy of the book and a reserved seat. Other local appearances on Harding’s national 25-city tour include Wellesley Books at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 11 ($36 for the book and lunch); Brookline Booksmith at 7 p.m. Sept. 11; and Andover Bookstore at 7 p.m. Nov. 14.

Coming out

 “Robert B. Parker’s Damned If You Do”by Michael Brandman (Putnam)

‘Giraffe Reflections’ is a rare breed in that it excels both as a photography book and a work of natural history.

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 “W is for Wasted”by Sue Grafton (Putnam)

 “No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet”by Molly Knight Raskin (Da Capo)

Pick of the Week

Fran Keilty of the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, Conn., recommends “Alex” by Pierre Lemaitre, translated from the French by Frank Wynne (MacLehose): “A beautiful woman is kidnapped after leaving a Paris shop. She is brutally beaten and suspended in a wooden crate from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse by a man who tells her he wants to watch her die. Detective Camille Verhoeven uses his extraordinary investigative abilities to understand the victim.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.
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