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The Peregrine (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

J.A. Baker , Robert Macfarlane
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 Feb 2005 New York Review Books Classics

From fall to spring, J.A. Baker set out to track the daily comings and goings of a pair of peregrine falcons across the flat fen lands of eastern England. He followed the birds obsessively, observing them in the air and on the ground, in pursuit of their prey, making a kill, eating, and at rest, activities he describes with an extraordinary fusion of precision and poetry. And as he continued his mysterious private quest, his sense of human self slowly dissolved, to be replaced with the alien and implacable consciousness of a hawk.

It is this extraordinary metamorphosis, magical and terrifying, that these beautifully written pages record.

Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (15 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781590171332
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171332
  • ASIN: 1590171330
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.2 x 1.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 145,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Not just for twitchers: his style is dynamic, vivid, startling, and so beautiful that you'll read each sentence over and over.

(Country Walking)

A great piece of nature writing that brilliantly evokes the Essex landscape.

(BBC Countryfile)

'John Alex Baker was something of a mystery and not a great deal is known of his private life, ... But few people have gained - and successfully shared - such a deep understanding of a wild animal, and for that Baker will never be forgotten.'

(Fergus Collins BBC Countryfile)

About the Author

J. A. Baker is also the author of The Hill of Summer. He was a native of Essex, England.

Robert Macfarlane's Mountains of the Mind (2003), about wilderness and the Western imagination, won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian First Book Award, among other prizes.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
63 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, distinctive and unforgettable 24 April 2008
I haven't ever reviewed anything on Amazon before but felt compelled to seeing that this astonishing book has not yet had one. The Peregrine, written by the reclusive librarian and naturalist J.A.Baker is a unique work, and certainly the best modern prose nature writing I have encountered. It should take its place beside Manley Hopkins notebooks and poems and the poetry of Les Murray and Ted Hughes. It is the last of these is that it most resembles with its intense distillations of natural violence, of planetary process seen in the local and nature seen without romantic overlay, functioning beyond human consciousness. The book consists of a short essay on the natural history of the peregrine falcon followed by an edited diary of days spent watching a few individuals over one winter and spring. There is therefore a repetition of days out watching, dawns and dusks, which becomes deeply hypnotic. Baker eschews any autobiographical writing; it is the inhuman drama of the birds lives that the reader becomes immersed in. He has a facility for metaphor every bit as good as Hughes' and, as in Hughes, the effect produced is of shockingly vivid arrest of the natural world. It is simply some of the best prose I have read.
In short, The Peregrine is unlike anything I have read before, a book that I will continue to live with and quite probably reread once a year. Do not delay before discovering this remarkable work.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my absolute favourite book 28 Oct 2008
By M. Urra
The first time I read this book, it jumped into my list of top five best books ever read. By the third time it was at number one.

The whole thing is lyrical, mesmerising and full of a strong sense of drama. All Baker does is go out and watch the peregrines. The birds exhibit normal bird behaviour: they fly, they hunt, they feed, they rest. Baker's prose infuses this daily ritual with a constant breathless beauty, and it sticks in your mind for ages after you've finished the book. He describes a nightjar's call as "a stream of wine spilling from a height into a deep and booming cask"; an owl's face as "grotesque, as though some lost and shrunken knight had withered to an owl"; the winter, when it arrives, as so cold that "Layers of ice seemed to shatter across my frozen face." Every single sentence in the book is beautiful and deeply affecting. It completely transcends category--it belongs in every library. I only wish there were an audio version so I could listen to it every day as well.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nature writing at its best 13 May 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Recently I have read birdlife described by birders, a stand up comedian and a prize-winning journo. The beauty of this writing surpasses them as the Golden Jubilee Diamond does cubic zirconia.

It relates the author's obsessive stalking of a peregrine falcon and its mate across the East Anglian countryside. He transforms the insouciant weather, landscape and falcon into interlocking metaphors of each other.

The falcons soar and stoop over their territory, their progress tracked by the clouds of birds that burst up as they pass. Sometimes foolhardy crows, jays and blackbirds pursue them, but they are dropped by the disdainful wing flicks of this the world's fastest creature.

At times the descriptions of savagery are simultaneously beautiful and breathtakingly visceral. Almost every paragraph contains a gem in a carefully crafted setting:

"...The kingfisher shone in mud at the river's edge, like a brilliant eye. He was tattered with blood, stained with the blood red colour of his stumpy legs that were stiff and red as sticks of sealing wax, cold in the lapping ripple of the river. He was like a dead star, whose green and turquoise light still glimmers down through the long light years."

A book to be read slowly and enjoyed with full visualisation.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Peregrine 11 Nov 2009
Here are 190 pages of some of the most beautifully
descriptive writing I have ever encountered.
The writer's use of adjectives is never over
the top and even though he's describing his
subject again and again and the landscapes
around, it is different every time. This book
really captivated me. I was made to feel in direct
contact of everything I love most through someone
else's vision.
This book was just wonderful to read. I highly
recommend it.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wondrous 24 Jan 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
probably, as they say, the best book about the mystery and fascination of birds ever written.

i read this first years ago, and then read it again as soon as i got to the end, and certain phrases burned themselves into my brain and i have never forgotten them.

j.a.baker., an enigma in himself, followed wintering peregrines in the flat coastlands of essex, england, recording his sightings and revelations of the falcons - and all the other birds around - in diary form, his phrases vivid and stamped with newness.

as he "hunts" them, he becomes as wary as they are of other humans and finds himself taking on certain characteristics of the thing he pursues, and gradually becomes almost, almost, accepted by the fierce wild birds, or at least tolerated, as a bond grows strong between hunter and hunted.

the writing of this, the first of his only two books, is quite brilliant, as is his empathy with the natural world, so persecuted by man.

"i have always longed to be part of the outward life, to be out there at the edge of things..." j.a.baker writes in the preface.
and he achieves that in the book, bringing back to us what he found "out there."

it is an intense, visionary kind of book, extremely dramatic.

once read, never forgotten.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Peregrine
I love this book. I purchased it after reading the reviews for it and after watching a BBC programme about Essex and it's wildlife which mentioned this book. Read more
Published 13 months ago by anneg
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about some birds
I ordered this because Robert Macfarlane, an author I much admire, was clearly in awe of it. I too was overwhelmed by it. How J A Baker manages this I'm not quite sure. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Jonathan
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of writing. One becomes a Peregrine in those wild...
I was boy in the war years before pesticides decimated our wildlife. Thank god we are coming to our senses at last. Recovery is slow but my memories of these birds are wonderful.
Published 14 months ago by read it. Ralph Hentall.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Peregrine
This unusual book trails one man's obsession with peregrine falcons. Beautifully written it is only possible to read a small portion at a time because of the 'sameness' of the tale... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Maxigriff
5.0 out of 5 stars A haunting and transforming book
I live in Essex and when I am out in the wild the descriptions from the book of my local landscape live on in my imagination. Read more
Published 15 months ago by C. M. Hurford
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic wildlife book
I've been after a copy of this for some time and eventually found this one. I believe it to be a brand new book (it doesn't appear to have been read and is unmarked), at a price... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Mr D P O'Shea
5.0 out of 5 stars sublime
A truly wonderful read. Mesmerising and profound. One of my favourite ever books. Borrow it or buy it, but definitely read it.
Published 16 months ago by M. Lambe
5.0 out of 5 stars truly memorable
You know those over-used words and expression in reviews that you often see, like "visceral" and "remarkable" and "profoundly moving" or "highly readable"? Read more
Published 18 months ago by Fannybygaslight
5.0 out of 5 stars Bought for husband,
This book was on husbands Christmas list, excellent quick arrival, he loves the book, and has spent hours reding it..
Published 18 months ago by gillian rosemary francis
5.0 out of 5 stars Really beautiful
This is a unique book. A strange mix of repetitive prose and achingly beautiful poetry. A lonely man tracks a bird across the wide and windy countryside. Don't miss this book.
Published on 16 Aug 2011 by John Donaldson
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