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4.5 out of 5 stars
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4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 28 June 2005
In the Eighteenth Century those members of the public who wished to broaden their knowledge of natural history , a science still very much in it's infancy, obviously did not have the benefit of television and enthusiatic presenters such as Bill Oddie. Instead, they were fortunate enough to be able to read Gilbert White's excellent " Natural History of Selbourne" - surely, even 200 years later, there can be no finer introduction to nature than this poetic collection of letters.
This is essentially a collection of White's well-meaning observations, some of which are amazingly accurate, others now known to be incorrect. However, the shear joy of his writing makes this one of those books that you wish there were more pages in once you have completed it. (How many Eighteenth Century books can you honestly say are a joy to read?)
Whilst this edition lacks the footnotes of the Penguin version of this book that highlight the errors and amplifications to his discoveries, this edition must surely get the nod for it's beautiful illustrations of the mammals. birds and plants by some of Gilbert White's contemporaries. This is, in fact, just how he wished the book to be published and makes this copy something to really treasure.
Given that he is believed to have had no optical aid such as binoculars(his fellows shot the birds for him!!), you can only marvel at how accurate he was. After all, it was White who initially distinguished the difference between Chiffchaff, Willow and Wood Warblers. This is still difficult for this birdwatching reveiwer. He was a fastidious observer of swifts , swallows and martins that abounded in the village back then. (I counted only 8 martin nests this summer - who says there is no such thing as global warming ? )
This book, one of my favourites, is easily deserving of more than five stars. A brilliant piece of literature. Incidently, Selbourne is still good for birdwatching today, even if many of the birds of White's day are no longer found in the village.
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on 16 October 2009
I bought this to replace my ancient tattered and faded Penguin paperback copy. At this price, it's a steal! Although a paperback, it is the usual Thames & Hudson high quality, with a strong double outer cover, proper binding, well printed on decent paper and full of superb period illustrations. I don't really miss my old version's extensive explanatory notes, since any obscure classical phrases are translated directly in the text. A thorough and detailed introduction completes the package, which is assuredly "most handsome".
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 August 2009
The letters of Gilbert White are probably more know through reference than reading - people are more likely to know of them because they are mentioned in other books rather than through the actual book itself. This is a shame. This book probably represents the "grand - father" of much of the nature writing that followed it - and for that reason alone many people, both reader and writers, are in its debt.

This book itself is a gentle stroll on foot and horseback through the seasons and landscapes of Selborne during the second half of the 1700's. This is a landscape rich in wildlife and character, and the author has both the skill as a naturalist and writer to bring it to life through the letters he writes - in many ways this is the blog from the 18th Century! But it is also so much more than just the random jottings of an observant man. Questions are pursued over the course of many years, and a good number of ideas and observations are floated that in time would become more important - and more well known. Only in one area does White really stray significantly from current understanding, and that is in his long search for evidence of hibernation in birds, especially those of the "swift and swallow kind".

My only criticism of the book relates to its layout rather than its style or content. Given the need to refer to the notes provided at regular intervals I would have preferred then to have been placed at the bottom of the page rather than at the back of the book, where they tend to act as a "break" on the flow of the text.

In some ways the list of (especially) birds he knows as common, but which are now rare, restricted or extinct in the area, is a marker of how much our landscapes have changed with the passing of the years. But in other ways they show what a skilled observer can find within one local area. In the "Advertisement" at the start of the book White hopes that he may induce his "readers to pay a more ready attention to the wonders of Creation". In this time of rapid environmental change "ready attention" to the world around us would still be highly valuable.
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on 13 October 2003
The edition of this book that I possess (circa 1970's) claims that this is something like the third most published book in the English Language, loved from America to Japan. It is a seminal book. When Linnaeus was creating his very methodical classification of the natural world it took a vicar from the little village of Selbourne to put in stone the study of nature through its behavior.
This book taught me how to examine the world around me, but it also offers the guilty pleasure of complete escapism. What could be safer then 1780's Southern England, as yet untouched by industry? Gilbert creates a world where human concerns do not exist and the rhythm of the natural world is all through this collection of letters to his friends.
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on 29 March 2011
A beautiful book produced with good quality paper and print, and beautiful pictures. I also bought a copy for a friend who often read the old small printed version and he thinks its great.
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on 12 August 2012
If you like intelligent writing and matters rural and historical then you will surely enjoy this book.

I knew of Gilbert White, (1720 - 1793) but very little about him before reading this book, but I now have a clear impression of the life that he led.

This book has been a fascinating read for many reasons. The most obvious is learning about this rather `odd ball' of a person, who on one level lived an unremarkable and gentle life as a village curate. Whilst on a broader and encompassing level, by his keen powers of observation and journal keeping, left behind him a priceless legacy of an account of the natural history, (focussed largely on the local ornithology) of the, at the time, isolated Hampshire village of Selbourne.

Maybe has deftly encapsulated for us the lengthy process, stretching over some twenty years or more, by which White's natural history of Selbourne came into being. He absolutely conveys White's quirky character and his overriding passion for the hirundines - swallows, swifts and house-martins.

But this biography provides us with so much more than a straight forward account of one man, because it is interwoven with wonderful snippets of social history of the Georgian period through which Gilbert White lived. We gain glimpses of southern English rural village life as well as learning some of the clerical politics at the time. Fascinating too are the references to the macro events of the threat of a French invasion along the southern coast and later the French revolution and how these were reacted to in this country.

This book won the Whitbread biography of the year award and one can see why. It is a shame that subsequently, judging by the paltry number of reviews it has received, it seems to have been overlooked because this is a book worthy of your time.
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on 16 November 2013
I am not a scientist, but after visiting Selborne, I bought this book and fell in love with White's house, thinking and his writing with its astonishing attention to detail. Just one delightful fact: before White observed migration, the common belief was that swallows hibernated in the mud beneath ponds! I thought everyone knew about Gilbert White, and I was the only one out of the loop, but on wider enquiry, it seems not. Go to Selborne when you have read this book and find his summer house! You will instantly want one. Oh, and one last thing, you must get the illustrated version, the line drawings are at once accurate and utterly charming.
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This is a lovely edition of the Natural History of Selbourne with beautiful illustrations. I bought it as a birthday present and its definitely one to treasure.
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on 13 June 2013
Gilbert White's classic, best in an illustrated edition like this or Century (1988), can be read like the Bible, a few paragraphs a day to muse on. Or one sentence: "The language of birds is very ancient and like other ancient modes of speech, very elliptical; little is said, but much is meant and understood." With that I have begun maybe forty public lectures on my book on bird language.
I read White's Selbourne, and mused on it so, while traveling in Dorset and writing my Birdtalk (2003). GW takes you into another world, the world where quotidian life--the appearance of migratory birds, the Tortoise Timothy in the root garden--was prized, not avoided by iphones and fast transport and vague urgencies.
White is the Thoreau of England, a solitary observer of the first rank. But unlike Thoreau the cantankerous Romantic recluse and tax-refuser, White was a sociable minister, an Eighteenth-Century man. Both Thoreau and White write with inimitable precision and joy at discovery. Both were transcendental, White in the traditional Christian manner. The Solomon of Canticles revived in Selbourne and at Walden.
Jane Austen's father--or was it an uncle?--knew White, as Chawton was a carriage ride away, now a mere fifteen minutes. Arguably, a visit to both,
and a tourist has seen the Ford Motor Company of English writing. Lucky for Chawton and English Rail, Americans don't know this.
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on 21 April 2012
Yes this is a very nice book and is, of course, all about Nature. It made a very interesting read thank you. As always the package and delivery speed were up Amazon usual high standard, Many Thanks, John Feek
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