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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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“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)
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon's Flight to Extinction by Joel Greenberg was published in 2014, the centenary of the pigeon's extinction. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Craig Rowland
Good. Does what I hoped for -- broad view, yet good solid references to existing literature.Published 3 months ago by Atsumi Y.
This book saddened and depressed me. Still, I feel it should be required reading in all our schools. There are valuable lessons here for all of us. Read morePublished 17 months ago by John R. Lindermuth
A sobering account of the decline and extinction of the passenger pigeon. This is a must read for those interested in conservation of wildlife and natural resources. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Larry D. Hedrick
A thorough, thoroughly captivating, thoroughly sobering account of the amazing life and sad demise of this beautiful American bird. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Amazon Customer
A must read for environmental enthusiasts and a "parable" for our time. What strikes the reader is how could our forbears have been so ignorant, while at the same time... Read morePublished 17 months ago by Wolfcat