I have to say that I am not a great fan of coffee table books. Usually produced in large formats and filled with lots of pretty pictures, they are, in my opinion, best left on coffee tables. Few deserve a place on a proper bookshelf.
I am therefore greatly indebted to Diver for asking me to review Linda Pitkins Under Northern Seas - but for this assignment, my prejudice against books of this sort would have caused me to miss an outstanding piece of work.
At first sight the book passes the coffee-table test - it is large and very colourful - but there the resemblance ends. As well as being wonderful to look at, it has plenty to say, and anyone who has ever put his or her head underwater will find it a fascinating read.
The books nine chapters lead you gradually out from the tidal zone to the open sea, stopping at offshore rocks, reefs and wrecks along the way to examine typical marine life. The photographs used to illustrate this journey are quite outstanding and must be among the best ever taken of life off British and Norwegian coasts. They combine to form an exceptional collection and are a genuine delight to look at.
Photographers will also appreciate the photographic index at the back of the book, which gives exposure and location details of each shot. This is a thoughtful touch and adds greatly to the enjoyment of the collection.
An entomologist and biologist by profession, Linda Pitkin might have been tempted to present her book as something of a scientific treatise, but she skillfully avoids the trap. Instead Latin names are kept in the background and do not interfere with an enjoyable, interesting and unpretentious text.
The text also contains several fascinating snippets about one or two old friends. Did you know, for example, that some flatfish have eyes on the left side of their body while others prefer the right That most wrasse start out as females and eventually change sex That female conger eels swim to 3000m or more to spawn, and that dead-mans fingers are actually soft corals Neither did I.
Under Northern Seas is a book that will appeal to all who regularly dive off our shores, but care should be taken about where it is kept. It belongs on a bookshelf, not on a coffee table.

Under Northern Seas by Linda Pitkin, Salamander Books, 0171 267 4447. Hardback,£25.