A fascinating, authoritative avian history.



A study of birds as inspiration, enlightenment, and food.

Melding science, natural history, memoir, and travelogue, ornithologist Birkhead offers a commodious history of humans’ connection to birds, from prehistoric times to the current burgeoning interest in bird-watching. He begins in southern Spain, where depictions of more than 200 birds were discovered in Neolithic caves. This “birthplace of bird study” raises the question of the artists’ motivation: Do the images represent totemism, suggesting that birds were worshipped? Did the artists pay homage to birds prized for food? Did the images serve as a kind of field guide? In ancient Egypt, mummified birds were found in catacombs, preserved as food, pets for the deceased, or votive offerings. Birkhead examines early interest in investigating birds (by Aristotle and Pliny the Elder, for example); falconry as pastime, an “expensive, time-consuming” indulgence of aristocrats; and the medieval veneration of birds as “hovering midway between heaven and earth, half angels, half animals,” which can be deduced from the appearance of birds in religious paintings. As prey—sometimes for food, sometimes for sport—bird populations often have been decimated. Tudor England fostered an “unthinking persecution of wildlife” that included birds seen as “vermin.” In the late 1950s, Mao Zedong set off mass killings of sparrows, blamed for stealing grain. The 17th century saw a marked interest in scientific investigation, resulting in a proliferation of description, collection, and illustration of birds. Victorians paradoxically cherished birds, enjoying a vogue for caged songbirds but also for amassing specimens of birds, skins, and eggs. From acorn woodpeckers to zebra finches, Birkhead examines bird habitat, behavior, cultural meaning, and physiology in species around the world. He creates engaging portraits of the often eccentric individuals involved in bird investigations and reports on some exotic uses of birds for food—flamingos’ fatty tongues, for example, roast peacock, and fattened herons. This beautifully produced volume is replete with drawings, photographs, maps, and vivid color plates.

A fascinating, authoritative avian history.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-691-23992-7

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.


The third volume in the Elephant Whisperer series.

In this follow-up to An Elephant in My Kitchen, Malby-Anthony continues her loving portrait of the Thula Thula wildlife reserve, which she co-founded in 1998 with her late husband, South African conservationist Lawrence Anthony, who published the first book in the series, The Elephant Whisperer, in 2009. Following his death in 2012, Malby-Anthony sought to honor his legacy by continuing his vision “to create a massive conservancy in Zululand, incorporating our land and other small farms and community land into one great big game park.” At the same time, the elephants gave her “a sense of purpose and direction.” In the Zulu language, thula means quiet, and though the author consistently seeks to provide that calm to her charges, peace and tranquility are not always easy to come by at Thula Thula. In this installment, Malby-Anthony discusses many of the challenges faced by her and her staff, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. These included an aggressive, 2-ton rhino named Thabo; the profound loss felt by all upon the death of their elephant matriarch, Frankie; difficulty obtaining permits and the related risk of having to relocate or cull some of their animals; the fear of looting and fire due to civil unrest in the region; and the ongoing and potentially deadly struggles with poachers. Throughout, the author also shares many warm, lighthearted moments, demonstrating the deep bond felt among the humans and animals at the reserve and the powerful effects of the kindness of strangers. “We are all working in unity for the greater good, for the betterment of Thula Thula and all our wildlife….We are humbled by the generosity and love, both from our guests and friends, and from strangers all around the world,” writes the author. “People’s open-hearted support kept us alive in the darkest times.”

A heartwarming and inspiring story for animal lovers.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9781250284259

Page Count: 320

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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A quirky wonder of a book.



A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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