Colorful but unassuming—and unexpected—lessons for living life fully, presented from a birder’s-eye view.

BIRDING WITHOUT BORDERS

AN OBSESSION, A QUEST, AND THE BIGGEST YEAR IN THE WORLD

Discovering the universal nature of humanity’s kindness while pursuing a birding world record.

In 2015, Birding magazine associate editor Strycker (The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, 2015, etc.) set a goal to see half of the world’s bird species in one year. Though his journey took him to all seven continents and over 40 countries—and he eventually clocked in at 6,042 species sighted, surpassing the 5,000 he aimed for when he set out—the author’s travelogue focuses less on the counts than on the moments that made up his remarkable journey. He discusses the evolution and historical context of ornithology and birding, noting that it moved from a process of taming the wilderness through discovering, collecting, and categorizing to a way to rediscover nature “at a time when significant chunks of society rarely venture outdoors.” Through his knowledgeable viewpoint, Strycker celebrates the creatures he followed, avian and human alike. With impressive attention to detail and a sharp eye, he conveys a sense of optimism even as he notes the ecological challenges faced not only by birds, but also by the other animals that occupy different habitats. If anything, cynics might struggle to believe in the spate of generosity embodied in the global village of birders as seen through the author’s eyes. Nonetheless, Strycker’s description of a year “expanded to its maximum potential” will inspire readers to explore the world, “from the tiniest detail to the biggest panorama.” In the appendix section, the author includes a list of his gear, a “Big Year Snapshot,” which lists the total days in each country and number of birds sighted, among other data, and a 50-page list of each of the birds he saw and when and where he saw them.

Colorful but unassuming—and unexpected—lessons for living life fully, presented from a birder’s-eye view.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-544-55814-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

HORIZON

Distinguished natural history writer and explorer Lopez (Outside, 2014, etc.) builds a winning memoir around books, voyages, and biological and anthropological observations.

“Traveling, despite the technological innovations that have brought cultural homogenization to much of the world, helps the curious and attentive itinerant understand how deep the notion goes that one place is never actually like another.” So writes the author, who has made a long career of visiting remote venues such as Antarctica, Greenland, and the lesser known of the Galápagos Islands. From these travels he has extracted truths about the world, such as the fact that places differ as widely as the people who live in them. Even when traveling with scientists from his own culture, Lopez finds differences of perception. On an Arctic island called Skraeling, for instance, he observes that if he and the biologists he is walking with were to encounter a grizzly feeding on a caribou, he would focus on the bear, the scientists on the whole gestalt of bear, caribou, environment; if a native of the place were along, the story would deepen beyond the immediate event, for those who possess Indigenous ways of knowledge, “unlike me…felt no immediate need to resolve it into meaning.” The author’s chapter on talismans—objects taken from his travels, such as “a fist-size piece of raven-black dolerite”—is among the best things he has written. But there are plentiful gems throughout the looping narrative, its episodes constructed from adventures over eight decades: trying to work out a bit of science as a teenager while huddled under the Ponte Vecchio after just having seen Botticelli’s Venus; admiring a swimmer as a septuagenarian while remembering the John Steinbeck whom he’d met as a schoolboy; gazing into the surf over many years’ worth of trips to Cape Foulweather, an Oregon headland named by Capt. James Cook, of whom he writes, achingly, “we no longer seem to be sailing in a time of fixed stars, of accurate chronometers, and of reliable routes.”

Exemplary writing about the world and a welcome gift to readers.

Pub Date: March 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-394-58582-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a...

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H IS FOR HAWK

An inspired, beautiful and absorbing account of a woman battling grief—with a goshawk.

Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald (History and Philosophy/Cambridge Univ.; Falcon, 2006, etc.) tried staving off deep depression with a unique form of personal therapy: the purchase and training of an English goshawk, which she named Mabel. Although a trained falconer, the author chose a raptor both unfamiliar and unpredictable, a creature of mad confidence that became a means of working against madness. “The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life,” she writes. As a devotee of birds of prey since girlhood, Macdonald knew the legends and the literature, particularly the cautionary example of The Once and Future King author T.H. White, whose 1951 book The Goshawk details his own painful battle to master his title subject. Macdonald dramatically parallels her own story with White’s, achieving a remarkable imaginative sympathy with the writer, a lonely, tormented homosexual fighting his own sadomasochistic demons. Even as she was learning from White’s mistakes, she found herself very much in his shoes, watching her life fall apart as the painfully slow bonding process with Mabel took over. Just how much do animals and humans have in common? The more Macdonald got to know her, the more Mabel confounded her notions about what the species was supposed to represent. Is a hawk a symbol of might or independence, or is that just our attempt to remake the animal world in our own image? Writing with breathless urgency that only rarely skirts the melodramatic, Macdonald broadens her scope well beyond herself to focus on the antagonism between people and the environment.

Whether you call this a personal story or nature writing, it’s poignant, thoughtful and moving—and likely to become a classic in either genre.

Pub Date: March 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0802123411

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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