Jeremy Mynott, Birdscapes


Birds in Our Imagination and Experience

ISBN: 9780691154282
384 pp.
8 color illus. 32 halftones. 25 line illus.


What draws us to the beauty of a peacock, the flight of an eagle, or the song of a nightingale? Why are birds so significant in our lives and our sense of the world? And what do our ways of thinking about and experiencing birds tell us about ourselves? Birdscapes is a unique meditation on the variety of human responses to birds, from antiquity to today, and from casual observers to the globe-trotting “twitchers” who sometimes risk life, limb, and marriages simply to add new species to their “life lists.”

Drawing extensively on literature, history, philosophy, and science, Jeremy Mynott puts his own experiences as a birdwatcher in a rich cultural context. His sources range from the familiar–Thoreau, Keats, Darwin, and Audubon–to the unexpected–Benjamin Franklin, Giacomo Puccini, Oscar Wilde, and Monty Python. Just as unusual are the extensive illustrations, which explore our perceptions and representations of birds through images such as national emblems, women’s hats, professional sports logos, and a Christmas biscuit tin, as well as classics of bird art. Each chapter takes up a new theme–from rarity, beauty, and sound to conservation, naming, and symbolism–and is set in a new place, as Mynott travels from his “home patch” in Suffolk, England, to his “away patch” in New York City’s Central Park, as well as to Russia, Australia, and Greece.

Conversational, playful, and witty, Birdscapes gently leads us to reflect on large questions about our relation to birds and the natural world. It encourages birders to see their pursuits in a broader human context–and it shows nonbirders what they may be missing.


“Who watches the bird-watchers? This inventive disquisition is alert to both the dawn chorus of birds and the great choir of poets, travellers, and naturalists who have rhapsodized them.”
New Yorker

“The finest book ever written about why we watch birds…. Mynott’s lightness of touch, combined with his depth of knowledge, experience and above all perception, create a thought-provoking and compulsively readable book.”
Stephen Moss, The Guardian

“Reading Jeremy Mynott’s Birdscapes is like having a leisurely conversation about a favorite subject with a close, widely-read, and highly articulate friend. He manages to show us — rather than simply tell us — that becoming intimate with the natural world, and especially with birds, touches many aspects of our common humanity — from our passion for making lists to our heartfelt responses to color and music. I kept being reminded of that ecstatic space described by Vladimir Nabokov “into which rushes all the things that I love.” A new classic from a rare genre.”
Christopher Leahy

“An astonishing compendium brimming over with bird lore and theory, pertinent quotations and avian miscellany, all of it well-written and much of it amusing – a classic birder’s bedside book if ever there was one.”
Peter Matthiessen

“An absolutely fascinating book, exhaustively researched, beautifully written, both learned and humorous, and endlessly stimulating.”
Bryan Bland, Birding World

“Fascinating…. An illuminating, light-hearted philosophical tour of what it is that fascinates us about birds…. Birdscapes is a journey across uncharted ornithological terrain.”
Tim Birkhead, Times Higher Education

“By the time I had read the first dozen or so pages of this book, two things became apparent: Birdscapes is a groundbreaking work and it is extremely well written. Recently, there has been a welcome trend for books on the wider aspects of birdwatching, including our responses to birds. Some of these have raised the bar of quality high but this one soars over it…. Though his writing is invested with erudition, it is also blessed with such clarity, verve and leavenings of wit that make it at once informative, invigorating and a delight to read…. This is one of the most thoughtful — and thought-provoking — books on birds that I have ever had the pleasure of reading.“
Jonathan Elphick, British Birds

Birdscapes moves rather like the swallows, dipping and swerving to pick up some item of interest. Mynott tells plenty of good birding tales, but these serve mainly to set off trains of reflection. And since he is a man of broad cultivation who once ran the Cambridge University Press, his range of reflections is vast….Reading Birdscapes is like going birding with a learned, witty and somewhat irreverent companion who isn’t satisfied just to check it off.”
Robert Paxton, Birding, American Birding Association

“Mynott’s outstanding achievement…. is to have decoded how birds rank among our closest kindred spirits.”
Evan Dunn, Times Literary Supplement

“Here is almost everything that you might ever want to know about birds in Western culture. And yet because Mynott writes so well, he never bores. This is an engaging and amusing book, even if you are not a bird lover.”
Celia Haddon, Salisbury Review

“panoramic in its scope and liberal in its interpretations”
Tim Dee, London Review of Books

“For all its digressive pleasures, Birdscapes poses deep and often fertile questions. Whether writing about aesthetics or conservation, Mynott constantly offers fresh perspectives, deconstructing our assumptions about the way we understand and experience the world around us with an ease that belies the sophistication of his thinking.”
James Bradley, Australian Book Review

“fascinating, enjoyable, provocative … a varied journey through the world of birds and bird enthusiasts that has something for everyone”
RSPB Birds magazine

“Fully deserving of the tag ‘an instant classic.’”
Bird Watching Magazine

“[A] leisurely, thoughtful, generous book.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Trying to understand — and explain — the nature of such attraction [to birds] is one of the tasks Mynott sets himself in this provocative and richly entertaining book. “
Tom Gilling, The Australian

“If you love birds and love books, you will find much to enjoy in this particular book about birds.”
John Wilson, Books and Culture

‘[a] wide-ranging examination of the multi-faceted relationships between birds and man and … a truly fascinating read.”
David Cromack, Birds Illustrated

“an entertaining and conversational compendium”
David Callaghan, Birdwatch magazine

“a rare philosophical exploration of our multi-faceted experience with birds… Birdscapes will appeal to readers who luxuriate in literature and who enjoy nature”
Devorah Benna, Science magazine