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Book Roundup Wednesday: Books About Birds

Posted Jul 15 2009 7:47pm

Books about environmentalism Every Wednesday, we review a selection of new and upcoming books addressing a specific aspect of environmentalism. This week, we sifted through the vast selection of bird-themed books to find the most compelling stories about birds, people, and the environment:

Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness (by Lyanda Lynn Haupt, $24, Little, Brown, and Co., July 2009): Crows are the city slickers of the bird world, an intelligent, opportunistic, “weedy” species that can thrive in environments strongly impacted by human activity. Researcher and writer Lyanda Haupt thinks they can tell us a lot about ourselves. She became interested in crows during her attempt to become an urban naturalist, and in this study of the species, she mixes ornithology with sociology to shed light on how we engage with wildness on our changing planet.

The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw:One Woman’s Fight to Save the World’s Most Beautiful Bird (by Bruce Barcott, $26, Random House, Jan. 2009): Sharon Matola was a mushroom expert, an Iowa housewife, a tiger tamer and an Air Force survival specialist before she found her calling protecting the endangered scarlet macaw's habitat from being dammed. Set in Central America, this story reads as an adventure novel, complete with corrupt governments, intriguing characters, and Matola's “ferocious” fight to save the rare birds’ last nesting ground.

Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds (by Olivia Gentile, $26, Bloomsbury USA, April 2009): Another story, reported with feeling, about a former housewife who found passion in birds. Phoebe Snetsinger had given up her dream of being a scientist to become a 1950s housewife. Then, at 49, she discovered she had cancer. She traded in her Norman Rockwell life for one of birding and extreme adventure, leaving home to search the globe for the world's rarest and most spectacular birds. Journalist Gentile tells the story of how Snetsinger became a birding legend in her often perilous quest to be the first person to spot more than 8,000 species.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds (by Christopher Cokinos, $17, Tarcher/Penguin, May 2009): The award-winning poet and writer brings together personal and natural history in this ecological tale of birds we’ve helped push to extinction. By way of six carefully researched stories, the book creates an elegy to what we’ve lost and highlights the impact we continue to have on our planet’s diversity.

Of Parrots and People:  The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Two Intelligent Species (by Mira Tweti, $16, Penguin, Aug. 2009): Since pirates adopted them as shoulder decor, or before, parrots have lived with people. Despite that, most of us know little about these creatures, who can have the verbal capacity of a five-year-old. Tweti seeks to remedy that with her book about parrots – their natural history, intelligence, and allure. It also explores their ever-developing relationship with humans, from the realm of pet trade, to research, to the threat of their extinction in the wild.

--Jamie Hansen

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