Birdscapes : Birds in Our Imagination and Experience

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What draws us to the beauty of a peacock, the flight of an eagle, or the song of a nightingale? Why are birds so significant in our lives and our sense of the world? And what do our ways of thinking about and experiencing birds tell us about ourselves? Birdscapes is a unique meditation on the variety of human responses to birds, from antiquity to today, and from casual observers to the globe-trotting "twitchers" who sometimes risk life, limb, and marriages simply to add new species to their "life lists." Drawing extensively on literature, history, philosophy, and science, Jeremy Mynott puts his own experiences as a birdwatcher in a rich cultural context. His sources range from the familiar--Thoreau, Keats, Darwin, and Audubon--to the unexpected--Benjamin Franklin, Giacomo Puccini, Oscar Wilde, and Monty Python. Just as unusual are the extensive illustrations, which explore our perceptions and representations of birds through images such as national emblems, women's hats, professional sports logos, and a Christmas biscuit tin, as well as classics of bird art. Each chapter takes up a new theme--from rarity, beauty, and sound to conservation, naming, and symbolism--and is set in a new place, as Mynott travels from his "home patch" in Suffolk, England, to his "away patch" in New York City's Central Park, as well as to Russia, Australia, and Greece. Conversational, playful, and witty, Birdscapes gently leads us to reflect on large questions about our relation to birds and the natural world. It encourages birders to see their pursuits in a broader human context--and it shows nonbirders what they may be more

Product details

  • Hardback | 384 pages
  • 154 x 236 x 38mm | 798.32g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Illustrated ed.
  • 8 color illus. 32 halftones. 25 line illus.
  • 0691135398
  • 9780691135397
  • 337,866

Review quote

"Who watches the bird-watchers? This inventive disquisition is alert to both the dawn chorus of birds and the great choir of poets, travellers, and naturalists who have rhapsodized them... For Mynott, much of the appeal of birds stems from the inexhaustible variety of our response to them: he celebrates the fact that, contra Keats, the nightingale's song might not have the same meanings for the modern birder as it has for Ruth among the alien corn."--New Yorker "The finest book ever written about why we watch birds... Mynott's lightness of touch, combined with his depth of knowledge, experience and above all perception, create a thought-provoking and compulsively readable book."--Stephen Moss, The Guardian (U.K.) "An absolutely fascinating book, exhaustively researched, beautifully written, both learned and humorous, and endlessly stimulating... A book which informs and delights at first reading and will continue to be relished on subsequent re-readings."--Bryan Bland, Birding World "Fascinating... An illuminating, light-hearted philosophical tour of what it is that fascinates us about birds... Jeremy Mynott's Birdscapes is a journey across uncharted ornithological terrain. He is the ultimate guide: knowledgeable, entertaining and gentle. The result is a wonderful rumination on birds and birders through space and time for anyone interested in our relationship with nature."--Tim Birkhead, Times Higher Education "Mynott's outstanding achievement ... is to have decoded how birds rank among our closest kindred spirits."--Evan Dunn, Times Literary Supplement "Mynott's eclectic approach belies a lucid framework of thought, as if distilled on a lifelong country ramble and now unveiled in a challenging and highly entertaining tutorial... Jeremy Mynott's outstanding achievement with Birdscapes is to have decoded how birds rank among our closest kindred spirits."--Euan Dunn, Times Literary Supplement "Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience is an attempt to put birdwatching back into birding, to reconnect the obsession with rarity and listing to a world that thinks more humanly about birds... [This] book is dense with evidence of the penetration of birds into our lives and vice versa."--Tim Dee, London Review of Books "Why do we expend so much effort to observe, catalog, describe, listen to and study birds? Citing a broad range of sources (Romantic poets, Japanese haiku masters, the Song of Solomon, Monty Python, Thoreau), Mynott ponders our perceptions of worth, our emotional responses to landscapes, and the process of vision itself... Though Mynott provides ample references for further reading, this leisurely, thoughtful, generous book provides ample information and amusement."--Publishers Weekly, starred review "A rare philosophical exploration of our multifaceted experience with birds: why we are attracted to them, how we encounter and describe them, and their significance in our lives... Birdscapes will appeal to readers who luxuriate in literature and who enjoy nature and especially birds."--Devorah Bennu, Science "Birdscapes moves rather like those swallows, dipping and swerving to pick up all sorts of items of interest. Mynott tells plenty of good birding tales, but these serve mainly to set off trains of reflection... Reading Birdscapes is like going birding with a learned, witty, and somewhat irreverent companion who isn't satisfied just to check things off... [D]elightful to read on a journey or a housebound day, and [opens] fascinating new horizons for anyone who wants to enlarge his or her interest in birds."--Robert O. Paxton, Birding "Birds are and have been the inspiration for Darwin, Monty Python, the Philadelphia Eagles, and obsessive listers. The author, a birder, wonders what our experiences with and reflections about birds say about us."--Matt Mendenhall, Birder's World "Ranging from thoughtful discussions about listing and obsession, to art, nature, birdsong and music, [Birdscapes] seems to cover in one volume almost everything most of us have, at some point in our 'birding careers', wondered about why we bird and why we like birds so much. But where most of us would stop, happy to paddle in the shallows and perhaps leave the questions not fully answered, Jeremy Mynott dives into the deep end and stays there until he's figured everything out... Ultimately a rewarding and very interesting read."--10,000 Birds "Well written... Birders will find this book both informative and entertaining!"--Ian Paulsen, The Birdbooker Report "Smooth and quite witty at times... Birdscapes has much in common with Jonathan Rosen's The Life of the Skies... Not least among these similarities is that it makes you think. That alone is reason enough to recommend this book. But by making you contemplate birds and your experience of them, it may also help you to enjoy birding even more."--Grant McCreary, The Birder's Library "The subtitle of his book, 'Birds in Our Imagination and Experience', hints at the wide sweep of his interests but not, perhaps, at the liveliness and originality of his writing... Mynott is as interested in human specimens as in the feathered kind... Those who appear in this book range from Icarus to Bill Oddie, which gives an idea of the breadth of the author's interests and reading. He has distilled it all into an original and enjoyable compendium."--J.W.M. Thompson, Standpoint Magazine "Immensely wide-ranging... If you love birds and love books, you will find much to enjoy in this particular book about birds."--John Wilson, Books & Culture "At once authoritative and personal, expansive and intimate, expertly detailed. [Mynott] examines birds broadly, in scientific and cultural contexts, as animals and as symbols."--Zocalo "Fascinating, enjoyable, provocative; a wide-ranging ramble through all kinds of birdy things... Such a varied journey through the world of birds and bird enthusiasts that it has something for everyone."--Birds "A lovingly compiled compendium of bird lore... A fascinating book, written with wit and charm."--Phil Bloomfield, Oxford Times "A groundbreaking work and it is extremely well written. Recently, there has been a welcome trend for books on the wider aspects of bird-watching, including our responses to birds. Some of these have raised the bar of quality high but this one soars over it... Though [Mynott's] writing is invested with erudition, it is also blessed with such clarity, verve and leavenings of wit that make it at once informative, invigorating and a delight to read... This is one of the most thoughtful--and thought-provoking--books on birds that I have ever had the pleasure of reading."--Jonathan Elphick, British Birds "An entertaining and conversational compendium of mankind's attraction to and representation of birds through the ages."--David Callahan, Birdwatch "An exquisite compendium from a man who has spent his life with birds, from their shapes and sounds to their place in human culture and history--utterly fascinating."--Philip Hoare, The National "Birdscapes seems to be the product of a lifelong obsession with birds. The author is the former chief executive of Cambridge University Press, and I suspect that he has been acquiring information about birds for many years. This book is his catharsis, an outpouring of his fascination with birds that he just had to share with everyone. Among many other topics, Mynott explains the appeal of birds and why listing is so important. He also compares the allure of birding to hunting and fishing. It's a great nightstand book to savor in bits and pieces."--Scott Shalaway, Charleston Gazette "A sweeping collection of facts, anecdotes, quotations, myths, and controversies... The wealth of detail and easy-going style means the book can be dipped into at any point and will hold your interest."--Bill Naylor, Cage & Aviary Birds "The book is, Mynott makes clear at the outset, as much about humans as it is about birds, being one part cultural history, one part naturalist essay, and one part philosophical inquiry... Mynott concludes that 'birds are good to think with,' and so is this book."--Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Virginia Quarterly Review "Provocative and richly entertaining."--Tom Gilling, The Australian "Birdscapes poses deep and often fertile questions. Whether writing about aesthetics or conservation, Mynott constantly offers fresh perspectives, deconstructing our assumptions about the way we understand and experience the world around us with an ease that belies the sophistication of his thinking."--James Bradley, Australian Book Review "It is one of those classic birder's bedside books which ranges over considerable historical, cultural and geographical sources, expanding into a whole philosophy of bird watching."--Frances Ashburner, Bird Observer "Mynott draws on his many years of bird-watching around the world and from various literary and scientific sources in writing about human experiences with birds... This work is ideal for armchair browsing; readers will frequently return to it."--Choice "Essential for the library of any birder... Birdscapes is a broad, sweeping collection of reflections--from a variety of sources--on birds and the practices of birding. Mynott is a philosopher at heart and one of his main tasks here is to explore the meaning of birds in human experience... [The] tendency to draw from diverse sources and Mynott's adeptness at weaving these bits together with his own reflections on birds and birding make Birdscapes required reading for any birder."--Chris Smith, Englewood Review of Books "I have dozens of books on all aspects of birds; from their behaviour, habitats and distribution, to their keeping, feeding, and breeding. But until recently, I didn't have a single book on the remarkable effects these little feathered creatures have on us. Fortunately, that has now changed. Princeton University Press has recently published this wonderful book on just that--the human perspective on how birds influence our lives... This book would be enjoyed by anyone who has an interest in birds in the wild or in captivity... A fascinating ramble through the culture of birds."--Susan Anderson, Australian Aviculture "This book is stimulating, thought provoking, informative, amusing at times and uses our often abused language to full potential. I confess to having resorted to my dictionary on a few occasions but have now added ornithomorphism and ornithomancy to my vocabulary!"--Simon Cox, Essex Birding "Though it is well illustrated by black and white line drawings and photographs, together with an eight-page colour section, it is the thoughtful and entertaining words that make this volume so easy to recommend."--Birds Illustrated "Of all those who have intellectually delved into the myriad ways, from science to symbolism, in which birds have played a role in human society, Jeremy Mynott, former chief executive of Cambridge University Press, is certainly among the most eloquent and expansive of mind... Birdscapes is a veritable smorgasbord of food for thought."--The Well-read Naturalist "Just as wonderful is Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience, by Jeremy Mynott, who turns out to be a skillful and flexible prose stylist. Reading this book will prepare one for hours of listening (Mynott is superb on bird sounds) and watching pleasure--but just reading it enriches one's perceptions."--Tom D'Evelyn, Providence Journal "An unusual but hugely interesting book which takes a completely different angle on birds, and investigates how we perceive them, and how birds have informed our history, folklore and everyday lives. Jeremy Mynott draws on a quite astonishing range of sources, and the book is illustrated throughout, reading this will be an excellent way to spend a wet weekend!"--British Trust for Ornithology Newsletter "This is a book for birdwatchers, yes, and it would make an excellent gift, but it's also a book for anyone who appreciates the out-of-doors."--R.G. Schmidt, Citrus County Chronicle "Here is almost everything that you might ever want to know about birds in Western culture... Because Mynott writes so well, he never bores. This is an engaging and amusing book, even if you are not a bird lover."--Celia Haddon, Salisbury Review "[A] wonderful book... I'd recommend it not only to anyone interested in birds but also for anyone who has a husband, wife, son or daughter who's nuts about birds and can't understand why--this will tell them."--Jonathan Elphick, FiveBooks "Fully deserving of the tag 'an instant classic' ... [Birdscapes] moves from the more technical and theoretical aspects of ornithology right the way through to bird folklore and the representation of birds in the arts. Best of all, it's thorough readable, packed full of the sort of avian tidbits that'll make you unbeatable at your next bird club quiz night."--Bird Watching magazine "[Mynott] brings to bear with deft sureness an extraordinary erudition in literature, art, philosophy, science, history, anthropology, mythology, linguistics, nature writing, and popular culture."--Brayton Polka, European Legacy "With this marvelous look at what birds mean to the human imagination, lifelong twitcher Mynott offers a birdwatching memoir which takes graceful swoops around art, philosophy, and science."--Benjamin Evans, Sunday Telegraphshow more

Flap copy

"An astonishing compendium brimming over with bird lore and theory, pertinent quotations and avian miscellany, all of it well-written and much of it amusing--a classic birder's bedside book if ever there was one."--Peter Matthiessen, author of "The Snow Leopard" and "Shadow Country""Reading Jeremy Mynott's "Birdscapes" is like having a leisurely conversation about a favorite subject with a close, widely read, and highly articulate friend. He manages to show us--rather than simply tell us--that becoming intimate with the natural world, and especially with birds, touches many aspects of our common humanity--from our passion for making lists to our heartfelt responses to color and music. I kept being reminded of that ecstatic space described by Vladimir Nabokov 'into which rushes all the things that I love.' A new classic in a rare genre."--Christopher Leahy, author of "The Birdwatcher's Companion""No stone is left unturned in this fascinating journey through the world of birds, birders, and bird lore. Much like the flight of a migrating swallow, it dips and soars--moving across space, time, and species from the Flannans to Kakadu, Jefferson to Churchill, and Red-eyed Vireo to Cushie Doo. Beautifully written and painstakingly researched, "Birdscapes" is a joy to read."--Nicolas Day, bird artist and ornithologistshow more

About Jeremy Mynott

Jeremy Mynott has been watching, listening to, and thinking about birds--and birders--for much of his life. He is the former chief executive of Cambridge University Press and is a fellow of Wolfson College, more

Table of contents

List of illustrations vii Preface ix Chapter 1: Wondering about birds Shingle Street -- Witnesses and prophets -- Birds and ourselves 1 Chapter 2: Amusive birds: Attraction and association Horsey -- Favourites and fancies -- Meanings and masks -- Charisma and beyond 28 Chapter 3: Seeing a difference Isles of Scilly -- Distinctions and differences -- Species and individuals -- Observing and perceiving -- Illusion and self-deception -- Patterns, profiles, and all that jizz 54 Chapter 4: Rarity value Central Park -- The listing habit -- Collection and possession -- The hunting instinct -- Extreme pursuits -- Discovery and diversity 80 Chapter 5: Beauty and the beholder Volga Delta -- Signs of life -- Image and imagination -- Colour and form -- Art and nature 109 Chapter 6: The sense of sound Little Thurlow -- Sound and silence -- Sounds different -- Signs of sound -- "And the winner is ... " -- The sound of music 145 Chapter 7: A time and a place Flannan Isles -- The sense of a season -- Birds in a landscape 182 Chapter 8: Wild nature: The politics of preference Old Hall Marshes -- Disturbance and disorientation -- Intervention and conservation -- Belonging? 207 Chapter 9: Naming matters Kakadu -- What's in a name? -- Facts and fancies: Naming the birds -- Invention and discovery -- Regulation and resistance: The Esperanto illusion 229 Chapter 10: Birds are good to think with Delphi -- A bird told me -- Signs and symbols -- Eagles and emblems -- Why birds? -- Seeing what you believe -- Like a bird 262 Envoi: "Stirred for a bird" Shingle Street 297 Appendix 1: Some notable lists: The Sumerians, Thomas Jefferson, John Clare 303 Appendix 2: Birds and bonnets: A New York hat story 310 Appendix 3: Nightingale mysteries 312 Appendix 4: Some Australian bird names 318 Reference matter: Abbreviations -- Notes, sources, and further reading 323 Index of birds 347 General index 355 Acknowledgements and permissions 365show more

Rating details

20 ratings
3.95 out of 5 stars
5 35% (7)
4 40% (8)
3 15% (3)
2 5% (1)
1 5% (1)
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