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A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction Hardcover – January 7, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

This book contains many historical accounts of passenger pigeon flocks that darkened whole skies for hours at a time. These staggering numbers also started the bird’s troubles. Pigeon hordes devoured crops and sown seeds, and the sheer weight of millions of pigeons swarming to roost altered whole forests. ­Pigeon-harvesting companies with spring-loaded nets were the most efficient killers, though in a single pigeon rookery, hunters armed with long poles would—in a matter of hours—knock tens of thousands of plump, almost-fledged chicks from their nests. Thousands of tons of dead pigeons were wasted: spoiled on train cars and wagons; thought worthless and dumped on the way to market; ground into fertilizer; fed to hogs; left lying in the field. This book regurgitates too much dry research and too many passing encounters with pigeons, but it does show how few ninteenth-century Americans—including scientists—could even imagine conservation. And when Greenberg mentions the nineteenth-century-type slaughter still going on in our relatively lawless oceans, he shows the insidious nature of greed and apathy. --Dane Carr

Review

The first major work in sixty years about the most famous extinct species since the dodo...equal parts natural history, elegy, and environmental outcry...A painstaking researcher, Greenberg writes with a naturalist's curiosity about the birds...Answering even basic questions about the passenger pigeon requires a sort of forensic ornithology, which gives Feathered River Across the Sky an unexpected poignancy at the very points where it is most nature-nerdy. (New Yorker)

Joel Greenberg has done prodigious research into the literature of the passenger pigeon and lays much of it out in this book. For that effort, all who care about the living world owe him a debt of gratitude. (Wall Street Journal)

A brilliant, important, haunting and poignant book, A Feathered River Across the Sky… will forever change the way in which you think of pigeons (all birds, really) and about the natural world. The book describes, in vivid detail, forceful narrative and handsome illustrations, the history of this species and the factors that contributed to its extinction. (Chicago Tribune)

Joel Greenberg, a Chicago-area naturalist and avid birder, has written a new account of the passenger pigeon's demise, A Feathered River Across the Sky . As Greenberg relates it, in calm, measured prose, it's a story of unremitting, wanton, continental-scale destruction. (New York Review of Books)

Thoroughly researched and well written. (Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University)

A Feathered River Across the Sky is a parable for our time . . . What a heartbreaking indictment of our species that we treated these animals so thoughtlessly. (David Suzuki, author of The Sacred Balance)

The human folly depicted here is as deep as the pigeons were numerous . . . Highly recommended. (Library Journal (starred review))
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1620405342
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620405345
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #487,111 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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42 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAME on January 7, 2014
Format: Hardcover
On 1 September 2014 there will be a centennial of a sad event. One hundred years ago, the very last passenger pigeon died. We have wiped out plenty of other species, but we know for sure the very date that this one left forever, and we also know just how much we lost because of the huge numbers and economic importance the birds once had. It has been many decades since a book was devoted to passenger pigeons and their fate, and this one seems as if it will be definitive: _A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction_ (Bloomsbury) by natural historian Joel Greenberg. For all the sadness of its subject (and all the reflections it must bring about what humans are doing to other species all around the world), this is a fascinating collection of passenger pigeon lore for those of us who will never see the enormous flocks of the birds, or (given what people do) get to taste one.

It is astonishing to read about the huge numbers of these birds; there are some tall tales about their populations, but even the verified reports will strain a reader’s credulity, as we simply do not know anything comparable now. John James Audubon in 1813 recorded a flight along the Ohio River that blotted out the sun and took three days to pass. The birds (unlike the rock pigeons that were brought here by Europeans) were native to North America, and had evolved to rove over the billions of acres looking for nut-bearing trees, like oaks. The birds were tasty, and the indigenous people knew it and appreciated the meals on the wing that were easy to catch, as did the earliest settlers. Not only were they tasty, but they were just so available. Shoot into the flock and bring down dozens, or wave a club through the mass, or throw rocks, or use nets or traps.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jim C on February 17, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was more than I bragained for and is a very emotional read. It starts out reviewing the passenger pigeon ecology, its amazing migrations and the movements of millions of passenger pigeons. I thought, what an amazing pigeon and I was thankful for buying and reading this book whch made this remarkable bird come alive again.

However, in the second part of the book, Joel Greenberg has collected and published the actual accounts of how the passenger pigeon was slaughtered from the writings of the people who participated. This section of the book almost reads like a catalog titled "How to kill passenger pigeons". In these chapters, the book becomes a very difficult read - and a terrifying almost repititous account of how Americans carelessly slaughtered this remarkable animal for food, money and sport into extinction.

I found the accounts of the pigeon's final nesting attempts in the last 10 years to be the most intense and poignent part of the book - you are shouting to yourself - "No, please stop the killings - these are the last birds" and even in these last years, the extent of the remaining pigeon population is astounding. Books like this are needed. Thanks for the author for writing it - it must have been a very difficult book emotionally to write.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By ernest schusky on January 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Greenberg brings his training as a biologist to an extrapolation of history that leaves us worried about all species in this era of uncertainity about climate change, pollution, and wide spread human belief in the superiority of mankind. He has found dozens of fascinating reports about the multitudes of passenger pigeons that filled the skies and the earth in the 1700s. Two examples suffice. One witness saw so many birds take refuge in an oak that the tree collapsed under their weight. Another saw multitudes drown when some birds landed on a shallow lake and others descended to join them. Some flocks of the birds must have numbered in the billions.

What struck me as a bonus to the account of the pigeon's demise was examination of the beginning relation between hunters and conservationists. Greenberg is sympatetic to hunting clubs which thrived on hunting passenger pigeons while becoming concerned with preserving the environment and the wildlife they depended upon. I found his account of Madison Grant to be one of the most enthraling. A member of the Boone and Crockett Club, Grant preached that all of nature could be considered a trophy--thus its preservation must be a top priority. Yet this amatuer naturalist was such an extreme racist that he received fan mail from Adolph Hitler.

In sum, Greenberg has used his knowledge and his research to bring together biology and history to give us an outstanding book.
ernestschusky.com
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Christopher C. Atkins on February 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book tells a tragic story for which we should all be sorry and also be ashamed of. We are about to do the same thing with the African elephant unless we can pull back from the brink.

This is a difficult read as the writing is not engaging. The book catalogues a long list of tragic events, so it is more like a dcumentary than a story. It is not the sort of book I will keep in my library to read again with pleasuer some day in the future.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Michael Malagold on March 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The tragic story of the passenger pigeon contains important lessons for humanity and our relationship with Nature. The opening chapters paint a vivid picture of what flocks of pigeons were like and make compelling reading.
Unfortunately, the book then devolves into excessively detailed descriptions of how the birds were hunted, marketed, cooked, and exterminated-important issues, but far to detailed for most readers.
The last chapter dealing with broader issues of extinction is again good informative reading.
If you get this book, be prepared to skim/skip much of the mid-portion.
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