Books. For a beginner's book I would have recommended to you Mike Wickham's, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Freshwater Aquariums, alphabooks, 1999. It was taken out of print in May 2000, when its publisher was gobbled up by the conglomerate that publishes the similar ...for Dummies series, which includes a disappointing title only too easily confused with Mike Wickham's book. (The ...for Dummies counterpart attempts to introduce marine aquariums as well, and doesn't do so good a job.)
In 2001, Mike Wickham teamed with Bruce Fogle to write a shorter (only 64 pages), but well-designed book, What Your Fish Needs, which wasn't really a substitute. Pick up a used copy of the Wickham book at e-bay. Meanwhile there's a fine new entrant to fill this wide-angled beginner's slot: David E. Boruchowitz, The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums, TFH (no date, but 2001; 2nd edition 2009), in glossy softcover, is the one to buy. Boruchowitz is the editor of Tropical Fish Hobbyist and knows that "the important thing is to be successful with your first aquarium." An ornamental community tank is his recommendation and the technical side is streamlined: don't bother with an air pump for your first aquarium. This book borrows some layout concepts from the ...Complete Idiot series, with sidebars rendered as dogeared Post-It notes or torn notebook pages and the color photos as polaroids paperclipped to the pages-- a little trendoid for my taste, but I got over it because the planning and text are so good. Simplicity is key, and Boruchowitz reads like an experienced aquarist friend, not like the knowledgable salesman at the LFS. The emphasis is on water changes and patience and stress prevention, rather than on technology that you can buy. Lee Finley recommended this book (in a TFH review) as a "refresher course." The "resources" appendix lists TFH as if it were the only fish magazine in town and gives a list of aquarium societies with snailmail addresses but no websites. Once "the online aquarium world" is referred to, but there's no other mention of the web as an alternate source for fish-keeping information, the one feature that will most surely date this book. The "brief overview of aquarium fish species" (Chapter 14) offers a list of fish to avoid as well, and why and, last of all, a long series of intelligently-selected and unusual stocking schemes for 29 or 55 gal. tanks- the optimal sizes for a first tank in Boruchowitz' opinion.
There are several variants of the colorful photo-illustrated shopping list, titled Encyclopedia or Atlas, with a scant minimum of basic aquarium information in condensed species entries, each with a photo. The best would be the fat little volumes of the Baensch Aquarium Atlas, Hans A. Baensch and Dr. Rudiger Riehl, 1988 (and various updated editions since). Baensch (pronounced "Baynsh"), is also the popular favorite. The concise text, originally planned as complete in one volume, has many sparks of genuine observation. Volume 2 (1993) supplements it with lots of additional fishes you might come across; it's especially strong on catfish, killifish and cichlids, and has many more aquarium plants, in a slightly eccentric grouping (by growth type). These two volumes present about 1500 freshwater fishes, with a high quality photo of every species. Volume 3, dense with catfishes, killifishes and Rift Lake Cichlids, is a desirable purchase, but optional, in my opinion. (Two further volumes in the original German aren't available in English.) There are also Baensch Atlases devoted to Catfishes and to Cichlids. All these high-priced texts have received some light revisions here and there, and have complicated publishing histories with various U.S. distributors. A photo index to vols. 1-5, with six thumbnail pix per page, appeared in 2000 (a third, revised edition, 2007).
Gina Sandford, Understanding Tropical Fish, (Interpet [Howell House] 2000). Aiming for the curious just-beyond-beginner, this prolific writer of popular basic-care aquarium books gives an introductory guide to freshwater fishes' adaptive forms, their anatomy and physical senses, their feeding and breeding strategies, generally working from an ecological viewpoint rather than a narrowly hobby-oriented one. It's a fresh approach. Freshwater tropical fishes appear in evocative well-chosen crisp-focused unusually close-up photos, and there are informative computer-enhanced technical illustrations. A small book of 135 pages and worth it. Gina Sandford's name must be a selling point, for her publisher Wiley has tacked it on as "co"-author of Dick Mills, Understanding Freshwater Fish, 2001, which actually covers coldwater fishes..
Ines Scheurmann, The Natural Aquarium Handbook (Barron's, 2000) is a re-issue of her condensed and competent, though rather dated, 1985 title, The New Aquarium Handbook. Its best chapter is still "Understanding fish." The re-issue is now dressed up with a bright new cover and misleadingly new title. This promise of freshness is unrealized. The text has been reset to advantage, but changes seem to be limited to to the opening paragraphs and an appended one-page chapter, "How to Have a Successful Community Aquarium." More characteristically, page 1 still refers approvingly to tanks with anodized aluminum frames. The good photos are still four and six to a page, like panes of postage stamps, and the leaden, rather uninformative little drawings have been kept. Though her recommendations of tetracycline have been deleted, I doubt Ms Scheurmann has had much hand in this "second edition" where tetras are still mis-labelled "Tetraodontidae" (p. 114) and you're still advised (inadvertently, surely!) to clean filter materials "such as gravel, foam and small clay tubes" with "warm, not hot, soapy water." This book is marginal at $9.95 especially if you already have the 1985 printing
Christel Kasselmann, Aquarium Plants (Krieger, Malabar FL, 2003) is a translation of her Aquarienpflanze, (1995, 1999); this is the big book of aquarium plants. Kasselmann, for twenty years the editor of the German aquatic plant magazine Aqua Planta, draws on the experience of her tropical explorations (with many documentary photographs) to offer a new emphasis on the local ecology of water and marsh plants in their native habitats, with data obtained on location, with essays covering environmental factors, seasonal influences and the adaptive characteristic of aquatic and marsh plants in the wild, and features of the aquarium, including substrate. The main body is an A to Z of aquarium and paludarium plants, all illustrated in color.
Reviews and an o.o.p. source. You'll find Hoa G. Nguyen's thoughtful reviews of some of the standard modern aquarium books at his website "Freshwater Planted Aquarium" among his "Resources." Neil Frank at "Aquarian Subjects," based in Raleigh NC, sells out-of-print aquarian books and magazines, including rare and historical items. His on-line catalog is a virtual guide to the historical aquarium literature that a handful of fanatics are starting to collect. You'll find other out-of-print aquarium books at e-bay: select "Books" and search "aquarium".
"Idea" books. Certain books published in the last three decades changed our ideas about fishkeeping and introduced new practices and new points-of-view. Since this isn't a bibliography, I'm listing these "idea" books in the order that they were published. Why? Well, it's not a long list, and you should look it over anyway. And because really fresh aquarium books set trends. After a book like each of the ones that follow has come out, the whole focus of fish-keeping takes a slightly-altered tack. These are ground-breakers. Do you think I've left out any titles that really changed our perspective?
K. Horst and H.E. Kipper, The Optimal Aquarium, Aquadocumenta 1986. High-tech aquarium keeping, sponsored by European manufacturers Dupla (founded by the authors) and Dennerle, inaugurated the still-current phase of planted aquaria that rely on intense lighting (metal halide lamps were the authors' choice), trickle filtration, substrate heating supplied by cables, and CO2 injection coupled with pH regulation and daily minidoses of plant fertilizers. This remains the modern "high-tech" approach, and the book was most Americans' first introduction to laterite, for one thing. Undeniably, the results have produced many dramatically beautiful lushly-planted aquaria, but a whole generation of American fishkeepers have become fixated on test result numbers in pursuit of an elusive "optimal" figure.
Walter Adey and Karen Loveland, Dynamic Aquaria: Building Living Ecosystems, 1991 (followed by a thoroughly revised 2nd ed.). Two scientists from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History integrated ecology and marine aquarium tech to present aquaria as "natural" ecosystems. Many freshwater aquarists ingested a lot of fresh and relevant point-of-view here.
W. Rainer Stawikowski, The Biotope Aquarium: an authentic imitation of nature in your home: setting up natural aquariums, TFH 1993. Stawikowski, the editor of DATZ, offered eight different naturally-styled habitats with many glossy photos but very condensed text, and introduced "biotope" to our vocabulary. The emphasis was on Neotropics and African Rift Lake ecotopes. Here I saw leaf litter in an aquarium for the first time.
S. Yashimo and D. Kobayashi, The Natural Aquarium, 1993.
Takashi Amano, Nature Aquarium World, (English-language version, TFH 1994), and two further volumes in a similar vein, now assembled with further material in Nature Aquarium Complete Works 1985-2009. Axelrod called this "the most thrilling and exciting book on the subject I have ever read" but Amano's books aren't much of a read at all, more of a set of unspoken lessons expressed though great photos of great planted underwater spaces. At the other end of the spectrum from repetitive beginners' how-to books, Amano has adapted the severe principles of Japanese Zen garden traditions, to raise aquarium design to unsurpassed evocative intensity — and often a sublime simplicity that his followers rarely achieve. "Wabi-sabi" is the mood: the authentically Japanese sense of time suspended, with a poignant hint of decay, all mellowed with moss and ferns. Fish mostly play a secondary role. Supplementary CO2 seems to be essential to Amano's technique. A drawback is that Amano is so culturally steeped in this great garden tradition that its design conventions sometimes substitute for concepts of "nature" and so escape an analysis that could have helped you to recreate the intuitive and disciplined Zen sensibility, rather than just to try imitating his manner. Locating copies of his expensive glossy periodical Aqua Journal, which got as far as issue #60 and was sporadically distributed in the USA during the 1990s, is rendered largely unnecessary by the Amano retrospective volume Nature Aquarium Complete Works 1985-2009 (TFH 2011).
Some "how-to" information is included in Takashi Amano's more recent Aquarium Plant Paradise, which e-aquaria.com's Eric Leung reviewed at Amazon.com as "Nature Aquarium World Lite," for its more popular price, offset by typos and lay-out glitches.
Diana Walstad, Ecology of the Planted Aquarium: A Practical Manual and Scientific Treatise for the Home Aquarist, Echinodorus Publishing 1999 (2nd ed. 2003). This self-published book has revived traditional concepts of the low-tech natural "balanced" aquarium, but with a new scientific understanding of how the ecosystem works — how plants affect the ecosystem and how the system affects the plants. Diana Walstad's ideas often contradict antiquated prevailing opinions. Walstad's aquaria (alas, not illustrated except on the cover) are provided with soil-enriched substrates, and fertilizer is confined to the nutrients found in fishfood. The basics are: a moderate number of fish; reduced filtration without the enhanced nitrification of biowheels; minimal cleaning, fertilization or disruption; thriving plants without artificial CO2; some natural sunlight; and diverse micro-organisms. The role of plants as water purifiers, the toxicity of heavy metals, ammonia and nitrite, bacterial processes in aquaria, cycles of energy and nutrients, plant allelopathic chemistry and plant nutrition, the components of substrates, control of algae, all are presented in terms of sound science, free of jargon or hype. A major turning-point in fishkeeping practice. If you get one "advanced" aquarium book, this is the one.