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Book Review:


Robert Fenner



Saltwater Aquariums for Dummies,

A fun guide to selecting and caring for a variety of saltwater fish

By Gregory Skomal


Hungry Minds, Inc.

909 Third Avenue

New York, NY 10022



2002, 308pp., Suggested Retail $21.99

Another in the 100 million books in print "Dummies" series; this "reference for the rest of us" has many outstanding features and presents the marine aquarium hobby in a straightforward enjoyable, even whimsical reading style. What is missing (color images), and outright wrong factually here is damaging to an otherwise useful guide.


In the process of reading this book for review I found myself repeatedly writing "good" next to passages. The "Dummies" people at corporate are not such when it comes to marketing. They have some wonderful innovations to offer: a nice tear out sheet at the front for regular maintenance scheduling, how to feed your fish, and the use of test kits for fish-only and reef systems.

I really like the use of icons in the margins for labeling tips, warnings, technical (scientific) stuff, and important items to remember. The use of cartoons for levity and emphasis is a gas, and the book is laudable for its inclusion of conversion tables, appendices (references, glossary).

Content-wise Saltwater Aquariums for Dummies breaks no new-ground in detailing the usual basics of marine aquarium set-up, stocking and husbandry. Rather, here is an unfolding of facts and opinions of the author on how to go about putting a system together, stock it with fishes, invertebrates… care for them (including basic information on the sciences and how they relate to the hobby)

Critique/Suggested Improvements

It's bad enough that this book has no color imagery (there are but a few half-tone photographs) and line drawings, but what about some simple illustrations; for instance, in "Identifying Common Tropical Marine Fish Families", beginning on p. 123… An outline of the general body shape of these groups would be helpful.

The author is a civil servant biologist (Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries), and a professed writer of "several books on aquariums and numerous scientific articles"… And none other than Ron Shimek is listed as "Technical Editor" in the list of people who helped bring this book to market. They should have caught and corrected many of the mis-statements here. A few of these errors are mentioned below as examples:

On live rock: "Live rock should only be added a little at a time…" p.85. There are few people in the know who advise not placing all the live rock to be used at once, or in very large systems in a couple of aliquots.

On fluidized bed filters: "The efficiency of a fluidized bed filter makes it a perfect candidate for a reef aquarium, but other filters are required to provide mechanical and chemical filtration". Fluidized bed filters are inappropriate technology for home hobbyists, unnecessary in properly set-up systems and promoters of nitrate anomalies.

On fishes for marine systems: What are the tropical species of fish (sic) of the Eastern Atlantic that occur in pet-fish markets? The Gold Rim Tang is mis-identified as Acanthurus glaucopareius? (Nee nigricans)… and suggested as a Surgeonfish to keep…? The Black-Finned Triggerfish (Melichthys ringens) is recommended "for inclusion in a peaceful fish-only tank"? Not! This genus of balistids is very hard to keep in captivity, requiring a very large system. The Grunts that are Sweetlips (family Haemulidae) are endorsed for new aquarists? Plectorhinchus albovittatum (the Yellow Sweetlips) is "ideal for a peaceful fish-only or reef tank"… No… And the all-time worst example, "Every aquarium needs a Cleaner Wrasse". Labroides dimidiatus… Dismal.

On invertebrates: Of the Sea Anemones covered, the most commonly offered species; Heteractis crispa (the "Sebae") is not mentioned. "Algae can be planktonic, meaning they float freely in the ocean, and when they do, they're called microalgae". What about Sargassum spp? What about the small species of thallophytes encrusting rock, substrates?

On book writing/production: There are a few grammatical errors as well… the most disingenuous an explanation of when to use fish (to describe a species or lower rank individual or group), and fishes (for more than one species)… and continuous mis-use of the term throughout the book.


Overall/In Closing:

As with other "Dummies" titles, here are lots of good ideas, features… dealing with emergencies, the ethics of pet-fishing… about the topic at hand. And as with their other efforts, here are the glaring faults of putting together works that its compilers have little knowledge or feel for. What's the sense of presenting information about a visually beautiful hobby w/o image work illustrating the same? A line on the back cover reads: "Dive into the colorful world of saltwater (sic) fish"… Not here.

Unfortunately this work is the worst kind of example of how not to make a "guide". With its sole use, a novice aquarist would not be warranted sufficient solid input to moderately guarantee success. My advice: look on the hobbyist chatforums on the Internet and ask beginners and beyond there what they recommend as worthy printed works.

Saltwater Aquariums for Dummies Hello Bob, Do you still have a subscription to FAMA?  <Nope. They dropped my "free" subsc. But I do read Di's (she's an advertiser) so far every month> I took a peak at the July 2003 issue on the rack at the grocery store. One of the first articles is a bookreview of "Saltwater Aquariums for Dummies". I thought you had already reviewed this. Didn't FAMA run your piece?  <Wow! Good memory. Yes, did write a review for Sue there... she didn't like it... and (IMO) had the audacity to ask me to either change my overall opinion or was going to "just run the positive parts"... Amazing! Censorship in the pet-fish interest? Let me check and see if it's posted on WWM: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/salth2odummies.htm Oh yeah, there it is> Needless to say, your review and that of Frank Anderson were night and day. <Uh yes... Frank is "living in Thailand"... he actually is living in Thailand...> Talk to you later,

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