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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This review appeared in LIVING BIRD magazine, Winter 1999
THE KINGBIRD HIGHWAY
I first read Kenn Kaufman's KINGBIRD HIGHWAY, a year and a half ago, on a trip to Churchill, Manitoba. It was such a compelling story, I knew immediately that I had to review it. Although I run the risk now of being the last reviewer in America to cover this book, KINGBIRD HIGHWAY is too good to pass up. It's a cut above anything written so...
Published on April 19, 1999

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars freedom on the road
I must say travel essays are becoming my favorite read and this book was an enjoyable one. The author does not leave the novice birder in the dust in his birding quests and actually envelopes the reader in his lust to see/hear the many birds he enjoyed. For the avid birder this is highly recomended.
Published on May 28, 1998 by Tate


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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This review appeared in LIVING BIRD magazine, Winter 1999, April 19, 1999
By A Customer
THE KINGBIRD HIGHWAY
I first read Kenn Kaufman's KINGBIRD HIGHWAY, a year and a half ago, on a trip to Churchill, Manitoba. It was such a compelling story, I knew immediately that I had to review it. Although I run the risk now of being the last reviewer in America to cover this book, KINGBIRD HIGHWAY is too good to pass up. It's a cut above anything written so far by an American birder and will surely be regarded as a classic in future years.
KINGBIRD HIGHWAY tells the tale of how, at age 16, Kenn Kaufman dropped everything and hit the road in search of birds. It's a remarkable story. There he was: honor student; president of the student council-obviously a gifted kid with a bright future in college. But his overwhelming yearning to learn everything he could about birds could not be suppressed or even postponed. He dropped out of school and began hitchhiking back and forth across the continent, searching for birds and adventure.
"I knew that, back at home, kids my age were going back to school," wrote Kaufman. "They had the clang of locker doors in the halls of South High in Wichita, Kansas. I had a nameless mountainside in Arizona, with sunlight streaming down among the pines, and Mexican songbirds moving through the high branches. My former classmates were moving toward their education, no doubt, just as I was moving toward mine, but now I was traveling a road that no one had charted for me . . . and my adventure was beginning."
Kaufman learned to survive on pennies a day (he budgeted himself only one dollar a day for food). He sold blood plasma twice a week, for five dollars a pint. He went to temporary employment agencies and would work by the day, until he had $50, then hit the road again. Sleeping outside in all kinds of weather, finding shelter under bridges and overpasses, he followed his unstoppable desire to find birds and learn more about them. He even started eating cat food: "a box of Little Friskies, stuffed in my backpack, could keep me going for days," he wrote. Besides being a great coming of age book and a road adventure yarn, KINGBIRD HIGHWAY provides a remarkable insight into a transitional era in American birding-the early 1970s. At the beginning of that decade, no one had yet reached the 700-species mark in their North American life lists-in fact, only the best birders had passed the 600-species mark. And the record for the most birds seen by a birder in a single year had stood at 598 since 1958, when ace British birder Stuart Keith completed his record-smashing North American big year.
In terms of the up-to-date information available for birders, many things had changed by 1971. Informal hotlines had begun springing up across the country. New bird-finding books, such as Jim Lane's guides, were providing intricate instructions on how to find birds in various regions. And, at some birding hotspots, taped telephone messages were providing weekly updated information on rare birds seen locally to anyone who called. With this budding network of bird-information sources, a new big-year record was there for the taking. And Kaufman wanted desperately to be the one to achieve it. He made his first try in 1972, but barely a month into his big year, he found that the record had already been topped by another boy wonder, Ted Parker, who had seen an incredible 626 species in 1971.
Kaufman's great adventure began in earnest on New Year's Day, 1973, when he tried once more to begin a big year, setting his sights firmly on Ted Parker's record. But it turned out that he was not the only one with that thought in mind. For the entire year, he had to compete toe-to-toe with Floyd Murdoch, a graduate student who got to travel to wildlife refuges all over the country to get information for his doctoral dissertation (and amass bird sightings). I won't tell you who won-in some ways, it doesn't matter. As Kaufman discovered in his lengthy travels, the journey is more important than the destination.
KINGBIRD HIGHWAY was a great surprise to me. Though I've always considered Kenn to be a good writer, and everything I've read of his has been excellent, journeyman work, KINGBIRD HIGHWAY is something more. In this book he not only captures the soul of birding but also the spirit of youth. The writing is lyrical, bordering on poetry at times. I hope that Kenn authors many more books of this kind in the years ahead.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kerouac with a purpose., November 1, 2000
Kenn Kaufman answers the question of what happened to all those scruffy kids who were hitching rides across America in the early 1970s. They grew up. In his case, this story of an epic quest to see more birds in a single year than anyone ever had before, lay in a box 25 years after it was written. Fortunately he decided to dust it off, clean it up and share it with us. I met Kenn once when I was on my own quest to see 400 birds in North America in a single year, about 15 years after he found 666 species, or 671, depending on whose rules you are using. He showed me my first Varied Bunting at the Patagonia Refuge. I got started on this road of bird listing after finding Jim Vardaman's book and reading it about a dozen times. Vardaman beat Kaufman's record with dollars, finding 699 in a single year. Probably Kaufman's book will inspire many more to take up the quest, for the simple reason that he's a far better storyteller. This is an adventure that goes far beyond bird watching. It is a lyrical book of the road, like Kerouac with a purpose. The music of trips remembered by a single song played to death by the AM stations comes ringing back over the years. I remember hitching from Missouri to New York State and hearing "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do," each time I got into a car. Kaufman tops that with the thunder of Jim Morrison's voice warning drivers who just picked him up, "There's a killer on the road." He transforms it into, "There's a birder on the road," but you can feel the discomfort of getting into cars in Southern states to that refrain. A high school dropout, lured by the bird quest at age 16, Kaufman's education about relationships came from statements of disillusion -- confessions to a stranger on an all night drive. It left him wary and ill-prepared for what might have been the real thing. His enduring relationship, the quest to see all those birds, is finally crystalized by a long- hair who listens to Kaufman's tale of why he is hitching from Arizona to New Jersey to see a non-descript shorebird, and lays a John Lennon line on him, "He's got to be good lookin' 'cuz he's so hard to see."
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A perfect book!, June 23, 2003
If you're stuck in a boring 9-5 job after having paid your dues with years of higher education, you'll be jealous of Kenn Kaufman's freedom at a young age to do what he wanted, learn what he wanted and lay the groundwork for one of the most successful careers in birding in the U.S.
If you're a birder, or at least trying to be a birder, you'll be jealous of the amount of ground Kenn Kaufman covered in the span of a few short years to see and marvel at 100's of birds.
If you're a writer, whether published or not, you'll be jealous of Kenn Kaufman's ability to write a such vividly-rendered account of his souped-up travails engaging in one of the most sympathetic pastimes to develop among modern humans, that of birding, contextualized with his growing awareness of the impact of human encroachment on the wilderness as an increasingly serious environmental problem. Whether the story surveys Kaufman's encounters with the awfully unlucky Myrtle Warblers stuck on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the winter of '73, the transplanted Skylarks of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest, or the migrating warblers stopping for a respite at Fort Jefferson in the Tortugas; or whether Kaufman is birding with his group of friends self-dubbed the "Tucson Five," or enduring the numbing experience of "thumbing" on the road for months on end; he makes you see what he's seeing and feel what he's feeling.
Finally, if you're someone who treasures the comforts of a soft pillow at night and a warm, dry roof over your head, you have to admire Kaufman's tenacity in dealing with -- and his almost joyful tolerance of-- bad weather, having to hike for miles before finding that much-needed ride or the 669th bird for his Big Year List, and, especially, the hunger born of a budget that probably didn't quite reach shoe-string level.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating rite of passage, November 23, 1999
By 
Peter Olson (DeKalb, Illinois) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I won't repeat what others have summarized about the content of this book. The story appealed to me on many levels. As a birder, it is indeed exciting to read the accounts of the multitudes of species seen. Once you realize that there are hundreds of different birds around you there is an understandible desire to SEE them all. (It's a way of collecting that doesn't require much storage space). As someone who grew up in the post-hitch-hiking era (who would dream of living this way now?), I can experience vicariously a lost way of life. The deepest impression that this book left on me was the transformation within the author from simply wanting to SEE all of the birds to wanting to really KNOW the birds and devote a lifetime to learning and discovery. It is on this level that the author speaks to all of us, for we all find (or hope to find) our own passion.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A road book with a passion, October 18, 2003
I read this book a couple of years ago ,haven't been writing reviews for long;but thought I would go back to this fine effort.I've read a lot of " road" books by some of the best; such as Heat-Moon,Kerouac,Mc Murtry,Peterson/Fisher,Steinbeck,Teale,Caldwell ;but as good as these were, none were written with the passion and self involvement that Kaufman brings to this book.He didn't set out to roam the country to escape,find himself,to discover the people or country.He set with the purpose of finding as many bird species as he could in one year ; wrote a book about it,and even though the goal was not just to write a book; he produced one that is as good as the "best".As a Birder ,we have all experienced many of the things he did ;but without the endurance,passion and commitment that he did.I thought I experienced cold along the Niagara River looking for Gulls in the Winter;but this was mild compared to sleeping in a car on the East coast when it was "cold as an Eskimo's tomb",eating from a can of cold soup at the ABA onvention,or having "his" scope blown away during a storm while doing the Christmas Bird count.If you like road books;but even more so if you enjoy nature/birding you just gotta read this gem !In my opinion he is right up there with the best of them.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read this and take a yearlong journey into the great outdoors, January 25, 2008
By 
David Liebers (Rochester, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder (Paperback)
As a birder, I empathized with Kaufman's desire to see rare birds in Aleutians, explore the unknown, and experience the American wilderness through the binocular lens. For those of us who might be apprehensive about dropping out of high school and hitchhiking around the country pursuing our dreams, Kaufman makes it easy. He does it for us.

This is the story of a young kid who was obsessed with birds. He left behind a life in small-town American in pursuit of his dreams (meaning to see new birds), and made a niche for himself in the then budding birdwatching sub-culture. On virtually no budget, he managed to navigate his way all around the United States, learning and growing as he traveled, making new friends and seeing wildlife all the while.

His writing is gripping. The excitement that he feels in seeing each new bird, meeting Roger Tory Peterson, or having a car stop to pick him up after having walked for hours on a roadside is very real to the reader. This journey transcends the birds that define it, and background discussion make this book accessible to birder and non-birder alike.

Perhaps most importantly, Kaufman provides an unconventional model for success. Not everyone has to go through the motions of securing a college degree, going to graduate school, or finding an entry level position someplace and begin climbing the corporate ladder. I wouldn't condone abandoning education, but think that Kaufman's case is useful in that it shows that self-education outside of the classroom can be just as (or more) informative and fulfilling.

Kaufman's journey takes him through the full range of human emotion, introduces him to people from all walks of life, and opens up a natural world that a young, lonely kid in Kansas could only dream about. Mixing in some self-deprecating humor, Kaufman's book is both thrilling, and relaxing.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great adventure, April 1, 2003
By A Customer
Skillfully written and edited to perfection, this book is a joy to read. The story is a thrilling adventure that's hard to put down; plan on pulling an all-nighter when you read it. In one year, Kenn Kaufman traveled 80,000 miles, saw over 600 species of birds, and spent less than $1000 in doing so. I'm more of an armchair birder myself, content to see the world's birds in books, and I loved being taken along on this amazing journey without having to leave the comfort of my own home.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I just keep reading it., December 19, 2002
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I'm not one to re-read books. This one I have read multiple times and will again. It is a great story, richly told of a teenager chasing birds, his dreams and his life's calling around North America in the early 1970's.

There are several poingant scenes in this book that appeal to me as a birder and as a human being. Probably the best is his reaction to seeing the girl who became his wife (for a while)waiting for him to take a ferry in New England.

If you have the slightest interest in nature or birds and like good books, buy this one and read it. You won't be disappointed.

Update--it's 10 years since my review, and I'm sitting here with my second copy of this book (first one lost in a move) on my table being read yet again.

Kenn's writing is simple, yet descriptive. To anyone who has spent much time outdoors, the scenes unfold easily before you. The insights into the mind of a bird-obsessed teenager are accurate and believable without being self-aggrandizing. He never looses sight of the reality that birding is a rather arbitrary game. He chronicles the birth of "birding" without giving himself any credit.

I may well find myself reading this one to my grandchildren someday.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic in the Making, March 21, 2001
By A Customer
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I usually give books away after I read them, but this is a keeper. I know I will want to read it again, probably more than once. Not only is it inspirational reading for those who love birds, but it's great travel writing and a moving coming-of-age story as well. Not only that, but the illustrations(also by Kaufman) are charmers as well. Kaufman's trip to St. Laurence Island , between Alaska and Siberia, with its spiritual overtones, remains the high point for me. I think this book is going to develop a substantial public. I recommend it to anyone, not just bird folks.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for birders, October 18, 2004
By 
Karen Potts (Lake Jackson, Texas) - See all my reviews
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Kenn Kaufman began birding at an early age, and as a young teenager he hid his "geeky" habit from his friends. Eventually, as he became older, he realized that there was a birding fraternity and he began to bird with others who loved it as much as he did. At 16, with his parents' blessing, he dropped out of school and began doing cross-country birding by hitchiking around the country. His knowledge of birds grew and his contacts with other birders increased. In 1973 he decided to go for a Big Year, that is a year in which he attempted to break the record for most birds seen in a year. The pace of Kaufman's quest was amazing and he relates his adventures in an interesting and down-to-earth style. Towards the end of his Big Year, Kaufman begins to question his own motives for building up his list and his introspection brings a new maturity to him and his methods of birding. This is a great book for any bird enthusiast.
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Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder
Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman (Paperback - April 11, 2006)
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