The Good: Amazing photography, Well-researched
The Bad: Incredibly addy, Only ten issues a year, Most information is readily available elsewhere.
The Basics: The more I considered my stack of Natural History Magazines, the more I thought that it had too many advertisements and too little writing in between the beautiful pictures.
As information becomes easier to disseminate, thanks to the Internet, I find the magazine to be a medium which is rapidly, rightfully, dying. From time to time, I find an ironic example and Natural History certainly qualifies.
Published ten times a year, Natural History is a publication produced in association with the American Museum Of Natural History, a museum devoted to exploring the history of Earth in geological and biological terms. But, with only 48 pages, it seems conservationists and those truly interested in natural history would be as happy to get the magazine as a monthly updated website. This would eliminate the terribly advertisement-filled waste of paper that Natural History has become. In the December 2009/January 2010 issue, there were fifteen full pages of advertisements and several more pages with column or partial-page ads!
Each issue features ten regular columns and two features that focus on studies involving natural history. The average feature is four pages long and focuses on obscure lifeforms – like insects who alter plant structures for their larvae – or on fossil records and what they tell scientists about specific species of plants, animals, and microscopic organisms. The features are almost always accompanied by lush, full-color photographs which give readers a very precise idea of exactly what the article is talking about for those who are not as advanced in their biological jargon as the magazine demands.
The departments range from a gatefold photograph of something spectacular in nature – like this month’s osprey liberating a trout from water – to reviews of current books pertaining to natural history. The reviews tend to be more blurbs than thoughtful, in-depth reviews and that Natural History takes up so much space plugging other works makes it feel even more like an extended series of advertisements. There is a regular column on events going on at the museum as well as current events going on in the scientific world pertaining to nature, plant and animal life and the environment.
The writing is certainly at a professional level and the magazine is smart, written with a decent level of diction so scientists from the teenage years and beyond will likely find Natural History to be worthwhile for keeping them up-to-date with current events in very broadest biology fields. Even so, the magazine has amazing photographs, usually of animals and obscure plants and as a result, the amount of text in the magazine is actually surprisingly minimal.
That’s what sinks the magazine for me. Natural History, without the advertisements, is basically a pamphlet with snippets of current events in the scientific community with two articles that are about 2500 words each. Despite the quality of the photographs, this seems like a waste of paper, especially for a target demographic that seems obsessed with understanding nature. This one works better as a website.
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© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.