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Hope Is the Thing With Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds Paperback – May 14, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher; Reprint edition (May 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585427225
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585427222
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #591,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A decade ago, new to the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas, poet, journalist, and amateur birder Christopher Cokinos spotted an unusual sight: a pair of green parrotlike birds in flight, chased by a hawk. Uncertain of what he had seen, he turned to his guidebooks and neighbors to discover, eventually, that he had likely spotted a couple of escaped pet conures, tropical birds that were likely to offer some lucky predator an exotic lunch.

In sifting through the ornithological records, Cokinos learned that another brightly colored bird once haunted the skies over eastern Kansas: the Carolina parakeet, long ago driven to extinction by hunting and habitat destruction. Hope Is the Thing with Feathers, a mournful and beautifully written book, offers a powerful meditation on the parakeet's fate, as well as that of other extinct species that lived in North America until the early years of the 20th century: the great auk, the Labrador duck, the heath hen, the passenger pigeon. In a rejoinder to Peter Matthiessen's Wildlife in America, Cokinos celebrates these ghost species, urging the protection of those that remain. "These days hope asks much from us," he allows, grimly observing the carnage that has gone before us. But hope remains, he adds, that some day endangered species will flourish once again. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Even readers with no special interest in birds will be caught up in this marvelous book, a deeply moving cautionary tale about how we have systematically diminished the planet. In recounting the histories of six extinct North American birds, along with stories of the people who killed them off and those who tried to save them, Cokinos, a professor of English at Kansas State University, transforms each extinction into a deeply disturbing tragedy--both for the species itself, and for human civilization. Relentless, wanton hunting, more than ecosystem pressures, obliterated Cokinos's feathered protagonists, including the Carolina Parakeet, which once colored the skies with its green, yellow and reddish-orange plumage; the hardy Passenger Pigeon, flying for hours at a time in endless flocks before it vanished around 1900; the exquisite Labrador Duck; and the Heath Hen, daily fare for the Pilgrims, a holdout on Martha's Vineyard until 1932. Cokinos seamlessly weaves together priceless anecdotes, historical detective work, birders' reports, natural histories of the vanished species and his travel notes ranging from the Louisiana bayous to the steep-cliffed Bird Rock islets in the St. Lawrence Gulf, once the nesting ground of the extinct Great Auk. We also meet memorable humans like wildlife artist Don Eckelberry, who in 1944 made the last authenticated sighting of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker as its forest was being decimated. Cokinos weighs the "fantastically remote" possibility of using DNA cloned from extinct birds to resurrect these vanished species, but the real hope engendered by this extraordinary saga--beautifully illustrated with photographs, engravings, paintings and memorabilia--lies in its insistent plea to restore ecological sanity. Agent, Natasha Kern. (Mar.) FYI: Hope Is the Thing with Feathers (the title comes from a line by Emily Dickinson) will be published on March 24, the 100th anniversary of the shooting of the last documented wild Passenger Pigeon.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Christopher Cokinos is the author of Hope Is the Thing with Feathers: A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds and The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars, both from Tarcher/Penguin. The winner of a Whiting Award, Cokinos has traveled across the world, from Greenland to Antarctica, in search of the stories of science and history that inform his writing. Committed to weaving memoir into research-driven narratives, Cokinos loves to explore the connections between lives and landscapes. With his partner the writer Kathe Lison, Cokinos lives along the Blacksmith Fork River in northern Utah. Visit www.christophercokinos.com for more information, links to reviews, dates of readings and more.

Customer Reviews

Good job, human race!
"Ali"
The only drawbacks were the very few occasions where the wonderful prose gives way to a dry, almost painful, regurgitation of historical fact.
Stephen Thomas
The book covers the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Labrador Duck and Great Auk.
"ckellerman"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A. Boynton on September 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book touched me deeply, made me both laugh, made me cry, made me angry...and also made me marvel at the what nature created, that I will never see. Months later, this book still touches me, and I often think of the stories in it. I didn't think a book on this subject could be as engaging, interesting and sad. It took me into the lives of these birds, explained their demise, told me about the last of their species. This really is a story that should be required reading for everyone...something that shows us that our actions have costs, shows us how greed and selfishness can really hurt the world around us, permanently...
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on March 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
...From the second line of the Emily Dickinson poem that both inspired Cokinos and gave him his title for the book. It is only natural that a poet would look to Dickinson and it is appropriate that it is this form which guides this book. HOPE IS THE THING WITH FEATHERS is indeed a poetic and lyrical description of the symbolic significance of six vanished species of North American birds.
The Carolina parakeet, Heath Hen, Great Auk, Passenger pigeon, Labrador duck and Ivory-billed woodpecker have with their passing come to represent for Cokinos a lot more than simply another group of vanished species. They are emblematic of lost time, effort, habitat, environment, and are missing slice of life. Poignant as his descriptions of their loss is, there is always an element of hope that suffuses each of his chapters.
Cokinos with this book successfully blends history with a little bit of biology and adds just enough personal observation and insight. The mix works and his writing is excellent. There is enough science here to satisfy those who wish to remain at a respectable distance. For those who don't mind getting close there is sufficient reason - through what these birds represent about our past and future on this planet - to allow them to come and perch in your soul.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Curry on October 26, 2004
Format: Paperback
This is a great book.

It's a sad one in realizing the destruction of various bird species. The chronicles of various species during the late 19th/early 20th century are astonishing to read. It was incredible to read and learn of biologists determined to collect species before they vanished - rather than attempt to preserve them.

Particularly entertaining (in an ironic and sick sort of way) was the tale of the last man to shoot the last Passenger Pigeon. The author did an incredible amount of research and weaves a delightful short story worthy of the purchase of this book in itself.

The writing is simple yet incredibly deep; it brings home an important and moving message that can be understood by a variety of audiences - even those who may not be particularly interested in nature, birds or environmental causes. Poetic and beautifully wrapped up. The only troubling portion of the book is the outcome of the fate of these species - obviously not the fault of the author, who provides a hope of preserving "what we still have" - it is moving, nonetheless ...

A wonderful book!!!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Weeder on August 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Haunting story of several species of North American birds driven to extinction by slaughter, and the frenzied destruction of habitats. When the naturalists of those times realized that certain species were in danger, they thought the best way to preserve the species was to shoot them, stuff them, and nail 'em to a board. Maybe we can learn something. Probably not. This is a keeper.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Thomas on July 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
For the most part, Christopher Cokinos' "Hope is the Thing With Feathers" is an excellent and comfortable book. The author's writing style makes reading this book almost effortless. The pages flew by almost as if I were watching a movie.
The book chronicles, from a very personal level, the author's research on some of America's more recently extinct birds: the Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Heath Hen, Passenger Pigeon, Labrador Duck and the Great Auk. I imagine that this book would only be of interest to someone who has, at the least, a passing interest in birds. Although the historical context is well represented, it's still a book about birds.
The book is 336 well-written pages with about 30 or 40 black-and-white photographs and drawings. The author included a selected bibliography, index and an interesting Frequently-Asked-Questions (FAQ) style interview at the back of the book.
The only drawbacks were the very few occasions where the wonderful prose gives way to a dry, almost painful, regurgitation of historical fact. In addition there are some brief but awkward inclusions of political correctness that don't seem to fit with the overall text.
I would buy this book again without a second thought!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "ckellerman" on May 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
Cokinos, an amateur birder, explores the life histories and conservation problems of North America's extinct birds, and then visits some of the famous zoos and nesting sites that marked the end of a species. Each section is filled with personal stories about the birds to give the reader a better feel for how the birds reacted to their habitats.
The book covers the Passenger Pigeon, Heath Hen, Carolina Parakeet, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Labrador Duck and Great Auk. Every birder has seen large flocks of Cedar Waxwings practically stripping all the berries from a tree- but imagine a flock of 3,000 Passenger Pigeons (considerably larger than a Mourning Dove, and much noisier) flying into a forest and deciding to nest there. That would be a small colony. It was the most populous bird on earth just a hundred years ago- and now it's gone.
The book is filled with interesting, and sometimes witty stories that will keep the reader from closing the cover. Sometimes, though, Cokinos drags on with information that doesn't seem necessary to the rest of the text- but this, by no means, should discourage you from buying the novel. I definitely recommend it.
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