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Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience [Paperback]

Jeremy Mynott
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

12 Mar 2012 0691154287 978-0691154282 Reprint

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 missing.


Frequently Bought Together

Birdscapes: Birds in Our Imagination and Experience + The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology + Bird Sense: What It's Like to Be a Bird
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Product details

  • Paperback: 392 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Reprint edition (12 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691154287
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691154282
  • Product Dimensions: 3.3 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 520,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

"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 Telegraph

From the Inside Flap

"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 ornithologist

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A broad and wonderful study of birds. 2 Jun 2009
By Stewart M TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Birdscapes is broad in its scope and conversational in its tone and should appeal to all those interested in why birds seem to have such a hold on our imaginations. The central question the book addresses is "why do birds seem to appeal to us so much?" Amongst other things this book aims to investigate the roles that rarity, form and colour can have on the appeal of birds and also has chapters on how "common knowledge" can impact on perception, and how the impact of myth can prevent us from seeing birds as they actually are.

This may seem like the recipe for a rather dull, longwinded philosophical text, but nothing could be further from the true. The books accessible and conversational tone is helped by the frequent footnotes which often add a note of humour to the text, and in a number of places the book is actually deliberately funny. The book is rich in quotations from a very wide range sources, which is part of the books appeal, although I am surprised there were very few quotations from more modern popular sources - do birds not have an impact on modern music and novels?

If you are interested in birds simply as objects to add to a list this may not be the book for you - although the section on list making itself may appeal. If you are interested in birds in the widest sense, what they mean to us, their importance as part of a landscape or as mythic creatures this is a delightful book that I recommend highly.
In addition to birders this book may also appeal to those who have an interest in how knowledge is constructed and how it can be constrained by both language and methods of classification, although the main audience is surely intended as the birding community.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Birds, birds, glorious birds! 16 Aug 2012
By Didier TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My word, what a delightful book! Years ago (I hate to think how long ago) I was an avid birdwatcher myself, devoting virtually all my spare time observing these wonderful creatures. And although work, kids and whatnot have greatly diminished the time I can spend birding, whenever I see a bird flying high in the sky I still cannot but try to determine what species it is, and my binoculars are always in my bags whenever and wherever I travel. This is not to say that I am an expert, on the contrary (compared to Jeremy Mynott I am clearly just a dabbler), but the greatest charm of this book is perhaps that it has as much to offer to 'non-birders' as to obsessive twitchers.

Birds have always enchanted and intrigued mankind, have they not? Is it because they can fly and have 'this freedom' of the air' as Mynott puts it, living their lives halfway between earth and heaven? And why are there so many cities, countries, sports clubs that have birds (perhaps most of all eagles) as an emblem? Birds figure in countless myths, stories and poems, they figure on stamps, Shakespeare wrote about them, and so did Keats...

About all this and a lot more Mynott has written a truly wonderful book. It's not in the least academic or heavy-handed though it's packed with learning, and the fact that the ten chapters are 'not a systematic treatise of any kind, rather a series of linked reflections' as he says in the introduction makes it all the more charming. Even if you don't know a robin from a wren, you'll enjoy every minute of it!
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book that makes you think 25 Jun 2009
By Grant McCreary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is a difficult book to sum up, but I think the Editorial Reviews presented on Amazon's page, when taken together, do a good job. But I still prefer the author's own simple summation:
[This book] is about our experience of birds: the reasons why we are attracted to them, the ways we encounter and describe them, and the significance they have in our lives.

The author has applied this to just about all aspects of birding, from identification to listing to conservation, etc. He does this largely by asking and attempting to answer questions about birds and our responses to them.

Mynott's exploration of these topics is insightful and fascinating, using examples from such disparate sources as literature, TV (even Monty Python!), music, and personal experience. He brings up many things that I have never considered, and puts into words ideas and feelings that I have not been able to express (or at least not nearly as well as he expresses them).

The writing is great, and not at all a labor to read. But it is not a light, quick read. You will want to take time to contemplate the questions being posed.

And the questions are great ones. They will make you think, perhaps for the first time about some topics. The book is worth reading for the thought exercise alone. But practically, by making you contemplate birds and your experience of them, it may also help you to enjoy birding even more.

I highly recommend using Amazon's Look Inside feature to read this book's first chapter. It gives a good feel for what the author tries to do in this book. If the sample intrigues you, then you should definitely enjoy this book.
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