A detailed portrait of the great ornithologist, with select examples of his dramatic avian images.
The activities promised on the title page are definitely a weak link, as they run to perfunctory projects like conducting an “eggamination” by breaking an egg, looking at its contents, and then eating them—but otherwise Ross runs through the major, and many minor, events in Audubon’s well-documented life to trace his development as an artist and his character as an “active, adaptable, and showy” impresario for his renowned but fantastically costly magnum opus. If the author’s efforts to acknowledge that, yes, Audubon shot his models and, yes, he was a slaveholding “evildoer” sometimes come off as clumsy, still, he’s careful to give the painter’s wife, Lucy, and collaborators like George Lehman and Maria Martin fulsome credit for their substantial contributions to his life’s work. And, though the man himself appears only once, the illustrations offer not only dozens of birds in magnificent, sharply reproduced glory, but helpful juxtapositions, too, such as a painting of a golden eagle placed with both its subtly altered print version and the portrait of Napoleon that was said to have inspired it. Along with notes on the deplorable effects of rampant 19th-century egg and plume harvesting on bird populations, the narrative finishes off with a nod to Black American ornithologist J. Drew Lanham’s recent examination of Audubon’s racist views and practices.
Thorough and perceptive, even if the efforts to add nuance are laid on with a trowel.(timeline, sites to visit and organizations, endnotes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-15)