- Also check our best rated Biography reviews
The Bird Man: A Biography of John Gould Paperback – 15 Jul 2004
|New from||Used from|
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Customers who bought this item also bought
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
'Thoroughly absorbing.' The New Yorker'A marvellous account' Sunday TelegraphThis vibrant, fascinating account of Britain's most eminent bird illustrator was first published to wonderful reviews over a decade ago. Beautifully repackaged as a classic biography of one of our most extraordinary Victorians, The Bird Man, by acclaimed writer Isabella Tree, will captivate a new audience. John Gould was a genius and a cad. His volume of work eclipsed his American counter part Audubon in accuracy and artistic value. But John Gould's work was the result of sacrifice and alienation. Through the unacknowledged loyalty and handiwork of his wife, and many other artists, in particular one young fellow called Edward Lear, Gould cemented his reputation as the first gentleman of birds. Isabella Tree's lively biography reveals a story of discovery, ambition and betrayal - touching on some of the greatest wonders of the Victorian era, from the arrival of the first giraffe in London to Gould's crucial role in Darwin's theory of natural selection.
From the Publisher
The classic biography of a great ornithologist now in B formatSee all Product description
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
This is far from a whitewash, it is a real "warts and all" portrait of a hard buisnessman, driven by a need to succeed finacially. Perhaps the most surprising element of Gould's life depicted here, for the modern reader, is the eyewatering numbers of species our "bird man" kills in his studies.One bag, after a trip to Hobart reads :"about 800 species of birds,70 of quadrupeds...more than 100 specimens preserved whole in spirits, and the nests and eggs of some 70 species...." As is explained, fairly, late in this book, this was the way observers of Natural History behaved in the days before cameras. However, Tree points out that John Gould was not in the forefront of conservation when it began to find its voice in the 1860s (p.271)
Other criticisms that Isabella Tree levels at her subject seem equally damning to modern eyes: his lack of warmth (particularly to the gifted Edward Lear) and habit of grabbing the glory from colleagues ,even if they are deceased (the episode of Gilbert's death while attempting to gain specimens for Gould shows John Gould in a particularly poor light) the refusal to commit himself to one side or another in the great scientific debates of his time. All these faults conjure up a selfish and unlikable man, perhaps an unexpected character for a lover of Nature to have.
One criticism at least seems to me to be a little unfair. Tree is dismissive of Gould's skill as an artist "childlike in their simplicity and awkwardness.."(p32) though she admits "they convey a significant impression of form..."Curiously, the two examples shown of Gould's own artwork, though obviously draft works seem lively and at the very least technically adept.
The bulk of the book is made up of descriptions of Gould's explorations in Australia, where he was one of the very first to describe the native fauna. This is interesting enough, although Tree does not seem to be an expert in the field of ornithology, and more in depth analysis of his work here would have been welcome.
The two early short chapters on Gould's relationships with Edward Lear and Charles Darwin are the most intriguing. The contrast between the romantic, artistic Lear and the hard headed,hard hearted pragmatist Gould would be worth a book in itself. Perhaps it is inevitable that Gould would be the more successful in their lifetimes and that Lear's name would be the one to be remembered after their deaths. As to Darwin, according to the fascinating interpretation of events here, Gould's contribution to Darwin's famous theory of evolution was greater than might be imagined.
All in all, a fascinating account of a humble, uneducated man's rise through society, to become a famous author and collector whose house even Royalty visited. His love of Nature must surely have been stronger than Isabella Tree acknowledges, but she is probably right in stressing it was his pragmatic, even selfish, streak that was the cornerstone of his great successes.