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Why Birds Sing: A Journey into the Mystery of Birdsong [Paperback]

David Rothenberg
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

14 Mar 2006
The astonishing richness of birdsong is both an aesthetic and a scientific mystery. Evolutionists have never been able to completely explain why birdsong is so inventive and why many species devote so many hours to singing. The standard explanations of defending territories and attracting mates don't begin to account for the variety and energy that the commonest birds exhibit. Is it possible that birds sing because they like to? This seemingly naive explanation is starting to look more and more like the truth. Why Birds Sing is a lyric exploration of birdsong that blends the latest scientific research with a deep understanding of musical beauty and form. Drawing on conversations with neuroscientists, ecologists, and composers, it is the first book to investigate the elusive question of why birds sing and what their song means to both avian and human ears. Whether playing his clarinet with the whitecrested laughing thrush in Pittsburgh, or jamming in the Australian winter breeding grounds of the Albert's lyrebird, Rothenberg immerses himself in the heart and soul of birdsong. He approaches the subject as a naturalist, philosopher, musician, and investigator. An intimate look at the mostlovely of natural phenomena, Why Birds Sing is a beautifully written exploration of a phenomenon that's at once familiar and profoundly alien.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (14 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465071368
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465071364
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 476,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"Sudden Music is a cross between Miles Davis and Arne Naess, Philip Glass, and Gary Snyder, Brian Eno and Henry David Thoreau, John Cage and James Lovelock." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

David Rothenberg-philosopher and musician-is the author of Why Birds Sing, which has been published in six languages and turned into a TV documentary by the BBC; Sudden Music; Hand's End; and Always the Mountains. His articles have appeared in Parabola, Orion, The Nation, Wired, Dwell, Kyoto Journal, and Sierra. He is the founding editor of the Terra Nova journal and book series. Rothenberg is also a composer and jazz clarinetist who has released seven CDs, one of which, On the Cliffs of the Heart, was named one of the top ten releases of 1995 by Jazziz Magazine. He lives in Cold Spring, New York.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IT IS MARCH 2000 and I am in Pittsburgh to jam with the birds of the National Aviary, the finest public collection of caged birds in the United States. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed the great work done to complete this book.

I will advice anyone to watch also the Documentary from the BBC named after the book.

You can find it in YouTube.
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Duetting with the Birds 21 May 2005
By B. Scharfstein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rothenberg writes with an easy intimacy, but if one takes him at his word, the intimacy that means most to him comes not by means of words but of music, and less by means of music as such than by an improvisatory exchange between, usually, himself on his clarinet, and someone else on whatever instrument the other person is using.

Given this driving urge, it seems inevitable that Rothenberg should want to cross the barrier between those most musical of creatures, the birds, and those with the most productive curiosity, the humans. His own curiosity leads him first to the birds and then to the human experts in birdsong. He gives vivid descriptions of these researchers' extraordinary devotion to their work. I especially enjoyed his description of the ability of the composer Olivier Messiaen to hear, transcribe, and whistle the complex songs of a bird he had never heard before.

Although, like a few of the researchers - Donald Kroodsma, for example - Rothenberg believes in the innate pleasure birds take in their song, he checks his intuitive sense of their muisicality by carefully summarizing what is scientifically known about their abilities and ways of life. Yet even though he takes to heart the criticism that the romantics "listened to birds and heard only themselves," he recalls that science, too, is fallible, and he plays on the ornithologists' conclusion that not only is each species of birds unique, but so is every individual bird.

"Why Birds Sing" ends in the climactic scene in which Rothenberg and a friend go to Australia to hear, see the dance of, and try to enter into a musical dialogue with the lyrebird named George, the only member, he says, of his elusive, musically gifted species who can stomach the sight and sound of human beings. The bird lights to sing just a few meters from Rothenberg's tape recorder. He hears that the lyrebird's song is composed but alien, in a human sens crazy, music. After he hears a full cycle of the lyrebird's music, he joins in, dancing, not to copy the bird's song, but to play music, in and around the song, that is worthy of the bird's acceptance. The bird seems to respond to the clarinet, dances, and disappears. Rothenberg develops this last, climactic chapter, which he calls "Becoming a Bird," with thoughtful eloquence. He feels he has given his gift and made his human offering to an animal of another singing species. But his gift is also to all of us who read him.
37 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must-Have Bird Book 30 April 2005
By E. J. Mcadams - Published on Amazon.com
This book is a hoot, a tweet, and a cheerup!

David Rothenberg has interwoven a personl journey of playing music with birds with a comprehensive history of bird song studies - from their poetic beginnings to their present scientific analysis. Because of his diverse talents, he is the perfect guide through these intellectual and musical forays.

Why do birds sing? There are many answers, but none are as satisfying as the relentless questioning in this book. I enjoyed it immensely and found it impossible to put down. I am sure you will enjoy it too.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tuneful, if not an aria. 16 July 2006
By Jonathan Balcombe - Published on Amazon.com
In this slightly meandering but sincere book, musician and philosopher Rothenberg shows us that there are qualities to birdsong that transcend what science can tell us. Part of that transcendence is their emotional involvement with their songs, and Rothenberg can be counted among earlier authorities--including Len Howard, Charles Hartshorne, and Alexander Skutch--who believe that birds enjoy singing. His enthusiasm is most apparent when the discussion turns to music, and as an amateur musician I also enjoyed perusing the musical scores and sonograms of various feathered songsters.

Rothenberg hits the mark with his observation that "bird songs are a genuine challenge to the conceit that humanity is needed to find beauty in the natural world." Another conceit is the disturbing laboratory experiments he describes, in which singing birds have their brains pierced by wire electrodes and are later killed for dissection.

Readers get a bonus CD of the author's music with birdsong and other nature sounds.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book 24 Dec 2010
By John Stotko - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great book, references scientific research as well as aesthetic qualities of many song birds and non-song birds bringing the two realms of reasoning to somewhat of a compromise. I would definetly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know why birds sing.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The solace of song 21 Aug 2006
By Marek Norman - Published on Amazon.com
David Rothenberg's lovely book, WHY BIRDS SING: A Journey Through

The Mystery of Bird Song, is an impressive achievement. The subject is fully researched, totally accessible, often fascinating, and always moving. I have long found that the wonder of bird song can bring profound solace to a troubled

spirit. Mr. Rothenberg's study completely validates my belief.
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