Given the rather unexceptional title of this book – the first of three volumes – a lot of people will probably dismiss it as just another catalogue of species (dozens of which are already on the book market). But a closer look soon reveals that this book is completely different from what one might expect (or even fear) on reading its brief title. It combines the accuracy and complexity of an academic book with the meticulous completeness of almost monographic species descriptions. And all this in a didactically excellently prepared presentation that everyone can understand! The freshwater fish presented are not, as is unfortunately often the case, merely illustrated and superficially described based on appearances, but brought close to the readers in their biodiversity. With a few exceptions, the taxonomic chapters of this book always follow the same pattern. It is less about the geographical distribution and distinction of the different species within the families, but focuses more on their similarities in morphology and ecology, family relations, typical behaviours and aspects of reproductive biology. The environmental requirements of the individual taxa as well as genetic and physiological peculiarities are also addressed comprehensively.
The chapters of the book were written by 23 acknowledged ichthyologists and professional scientists working in teaching and research at prestigious universities and institutions in North America. This is evidenced by the 125-page bibliography which lists over 4,000 scientific articles, books, and other sources, including several publications of the authors involved. The references to further reading make this book a valuable source of information for those who want to go into more detail or who are themselves working on the presented fish families. Although the book is, of course, concerned only with North American fish species and families – Petromyzontidae (lampreys), Dasyatidae (whiptail stingrays), Acipenseridae (sturgeons), Polyodontidae (paddlefishes), Lepisosteidae (gars), Amiidae (bowfins), Hiodontidae (mooneyes), Anguillidae (freshwater eels), Engraulidae (anchovies), Cyprinidae (carps and minnows), Catostomidae (suckers) – it provides a wealth of valuable information for fish specialists and enthusiasts in other regions of the world, too. As an encyclopedic work, it sets new standards in terms of density and meticulous precision, and it deals with scientific content in understandable language.
Although this praise also applies in principle to the book’s visual presentation and design, a distinction has to be made here between the outstanding drawings of fish illustrator Joseph R. Tomelleri and some of the photos (e.g. top of page 417) that do not quite meet these high standards in some passages. This small criticism should not, however, in any way detract from the significance of "Freshwater Fishes of North America". It can not only be recommended to biology students, scientists and naturalists, but also without any reservations to anyone who is in any way interested in or enthusiastic about fish. Let's hope that the next two volumes will be published as soon as possible to complete this impressive work.