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Corvus: A Life with Birds Hardcover – 4 Aug 2008

107 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; First Edition edition (4 Aug. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847080294
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847080295
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.3 x 20.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 419,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


' ... the most unusual and compelling nature book' -- The Herald

'A triumph'
-- The Irish Times

'Exquisitely written ... Corvus stands as a serious corrective to the notion that only exotic animals are worthy of attention'
-- Observer

'This book is so entertaining and intelligent' -- Spectator

'Woolfson possesses a sense of humour and a gift for fine writing' -- The Daily Mail

`Nature writing at its best' -- The Sunday Times

About the Author

Esther Woolfson was brought up in Glasgow and studied Chinese at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Edinburgh University. Her acclaimed short stories have appeared in many anthologies and have been read on Radio 4. She has won prizes both for them and for nature writing. She has been the recipient of a Scottish Arts Council Travel Grant and a Writer's Bursary. She lives in Aberdeen.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 93 people found the following review helpful By ashropshirelad on 9 Nov. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Corvus is an enchanting book. There is no sentimentality here - indeed, Esther Woolfson goes to rigorous lengths to avoid anthropomorphism - and yet the entire book is infused with warmth, charm and humanity, whilst the birds themselves - very much the stars of the piece - are quite wonderful. The episodic narrative, charting the author's own journey of avian experience and discovery - punctuated by digressions on topics such as birds in folklore, bird physiology, bird evolution, bird flight and bird song - is completely compelling: I could barely put it down. The expositions themselves are equally interesting, hugely informed and informing, but never daunting. Beautifully written, the prose is spare but elegant, seemingly almost taking on the metre of bird song itself. Other significant themes also run, almost imperceptibly, through the book: the art of 'seeing' and observation, the scientific method, the idea of 'North', the comfort of home and family. This is not a 'heavy' book - it first came to my attention through hearing a very brief extract on (BBC) Radio 4 - but there is great sensitivity and wisdom here. If you've ever stood at a window or sat on a bench and watched a bird walk or hop or feed or fly, then Corvus will almost certainly enrich your life and provide a fresh, new perspective the next time you see a rook, crow, magpie or one of their feathered relations. A joy from cover to cover.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By bunnyw on 7 Jan. 2011
Format: Paperback
This is a great read and a must for all slightly geeky, warm-hearted nature lovers. Although I'm already a keen birdwatcher, my eyes were opened to the intriguing world of these often maligned but undeniably splendid and intelligent birds. Esther Woolfson provides a lovely mixture of corvid science, ecology and folklore alongside her personal experiences and anecdotes of sharing her home with various birds including a rook (Chicken) and a magpie (Spike). I found this blend of fact and fiction very well balanced. At a stroke I was learning details of corvid social behaviour and brain power, alongside stories of superstition and myth.

But what really made it for me were the relationships between Esther and the helpless infant corvids that, having fallen from their family nests, she took in and raised in her home in Aberdeen. Nurturing and living with Chicken and Spike gave Esther an unprecedented opportunity to study corvid behaviour. Her love and care of these birds is evident, as is her awareness and respect for them as wild and highly independent-minded creatures. The description of the greeting ritual between the author and Chicken each morning is very touching - how many people do you know who've had the priviledge of bowing and greeting a adult female rook at the bottom of their stairs each morning?!!

I hope others enjoy Corvus as much as I did.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jan on 8 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
Lucid and entertaining account of a woman who has spent much of her life looking after birds, especially one rook (called 'Chicken') and a magpie ('Spike'). She writes beautifully about the countryside of north-east Scotland, observing the natural world with great care and attention, and her affection for her bird companions doesn't descend into tweeness or sentimentality, though she sometimes takes issue with what she considers the unreasonable dismissal as `anthropomorphism' of behaviours such as play and enjoyment.

The lives of her rescued birds are related with great humour and a freedom from pre-judgement that makes them all the more convincing. We have almost a cultural dislike of crows and magpies, a tradition of seeing them as birds of ill omen and these days blaming the latter for the drop in numbers of small garden birds; Woolfson refutes this. Titbits about their preferences, their ways of showing (she believes) empathy, their jokes (Spike likes to create booby-traps by balancing objects on the top of doors) and the way they continue to display innate behaviours though confined to the house, are fascinating. The birds are never `house-trained' but she is able to deal philosophically with this, and with their unsavoury habit of caching perishable foodstuff under the carpets and cushions.

This is a hugely enjoyable and accomplished book, acclaimed by Mark Cocker and other distinguished names. It should appeal to amateur or expert.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Hywel James TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 4 July 2011
Format: Paperback
Esther Woolfson's "Corvus: a life with birds" is an enchanting book. The vast majority of readers have praised it very highly indeed and I will simply add that, in addition to its scrupulous observation of the birds with whom Woolfson has shared her home, she offers many wonderful insights into the science of these creatures - the fruit of much wide reading. She also explores the relationship between ourselves and the world we share with other living creatures such as birds. In particular she addresses what Emile Durkheim characterised as the Other, those non-human creatures whose consciousness we are acutely aware of, yet cannot directly confront in the way we can our own kind. Her observations in this respect are deeply profound and often moving. Finally I would draw attention to the humour in the book. Woolfson is no nerd. I laughed out loud at her descriptions of the demands the rook and the magpie made upon her and the lengths she went to meet them.

A great book and beautifully written.
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