Birdscapes is broad in its scope and conversational in its tone and should appeal to all those interested in why birds seem to have such a hold on our imaginations. The central question the book addresses is "why do birds seem to appeal to us so much?" Amongst other things this book aims to investigate the roles that rarity, form and colour can have on the appeal of birds and also has chapters on how "common knowledge" can impact on perception, and how the impact of myth can prevent us from seeing birds as they actually are.
This may seem like the recipe for a rather dull, longwinded philosophical text, but nothing could be further from the true. The books accessible and conversational tone is helped by the frequent footnotes which often add a note of humour to the text, and in a number of places the book is actually deliberately funny. The book is rich in quotations from a very wide range sources, which is part of the books appeal, although I am surprised there were very few quotations from more modern popular sources - do birds not have an impact on modern music and novels?
If you are interested in birds simply as objects to add to a list this may not be the book for you - although the section on list making itself may appeal. If you are interested in birds in the widest sense, what they mean to us, their importance as part of a landscape or as mythic creatures this is a delightful book that I recommend highly.
In addition to birders this book may also appeal to those who have an interest in how knowledge is constructed and how it can be constrained by both language and methods of classification, although the main audience is surely intended as the birding community.
on 16 August 2012
My word, what a delightful book! Years ago (I hate to think how long ago) I was an avid birdwatcher myself, devoting virtually all my spare time observing these wonderful creatures. And although work, kids and whatnot have greatly diminished the time I can spend birding, whenever I see a bird flying high in the sky I still cannot but try to determine what species it is, and my binoculars are always in my bags whenever and wherever I travel. This is not to say that I am an expert, on the contrary (compared to Jeremy Mynott I am clearly just a dabbler), but the greatest charm of this book is perhaps that it has as much to offer to 'non-birders' as to obsessive twitchers.
Birds have always enchanted and intrigued mankind, have they not? Is it because they can fly and have 'this freedom' of the air' as Mynott puts it, living their lives halfway between earth and heaven? And why are there so many cities, countries, sports clubs that have birds (perhaps most of all eagles) as an emblem? Birds figure in countless myths, stories and poems, they figure on stamps, Shakespeare wrote about them, and so did Keats...
About all this and a lot more Mynott has written a truly wonderful book. It's not in the least academic or heavy-handed though it's packed with learning, and the fact that the ten chapters are 'not a systematic treatise of any kind, rather a series of linked reflections' as he says in the introduction makes it all the more charming. Even if you don't know a robin from a wren, you'll enjoy every minute of it!