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The Peregrine (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – December 31, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"...the book is a work of tireless outward observation, with an astonishingly inventive and precise prose style....Baker’s feet may be on the ground, but his gaze is skyward, toward the birds he envies." Lisa Darms, Bookforum


"Remarkable...the lyrical prose hammers home the attraction of pitting predator against quarry." — Daily Telegraph (London)

"A powerful evocation of East Anglia’s winter landscape, and an unforgettable portrait of a man’s passionate engagement with the natural world."
London Review of Books

"The Peregrine should be known as one of the finest works on nature ever written…His words—precise, lyrical and intensely felt—seem to have been selected as if their author were under huge pressure, both from the depth of his feelings for the bird and the weight of experience he wished to impart…The only sadness about The Peregrine is that its author is no longer with us to be honoured afresh for his achievement."
BBC Wildlife Magazine

"A nature study such as Mr. Baker has presented—not by any means restricted to the peregrine falcon—deserves warm praise for the remarkable perseverance and patience which has gone into its making, and when the observer is a gifted writer, as in the present instance, the result is even more gratifying."
— Daniel A. Bannerman, The New York Review of Books

"The Peregrine is one of the most beautifully written, carefully observed and evocative wildlife accounts I have ever read. Mr. Baker’s patience, his discriminating and unsentimental eye, and his passionate deliberations are utterly captivating."
— Barry Lopez

"This book goes altogether outside the bird book into something less naïve, into literature, into a kind of universal rapport…"
— Geoffrey Grigson, Sunday Times (London)

"…one need not know a hawk from a handsaw to take pleasure and profit from the book. It is an account by a curious, complicated man of a curious, complicated phenomenon, that will involve, instruct and excite a reader who can never hope and may never want to share the writer’s experience."
— Bil Gilbert, Washington Post Book World

"Mr. Baker is primarily a descriptive writer, and a good one, but his obsession has given him a kind of crazy empathy that lifts his book above mere observation."
The New Yorker

About the Author

J. A. Baker is also the author of The Hill of Summer. He was a native of Essex, England.

Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind (2003), about wilderness and the Western imagination, won the Somerset Maugham Award and the Guardian First Book Award, among other prizes.
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (December 31, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781590171332
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590171332
  • ASIN: 1590171330
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Indanthrone Blue on February 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
"The Peregrine" is the most incredible thing I've read in a long time, maybe ever. Both for the writing, and for the experiences that the writing coveys. It begins with two brief chapters, the first about watching, and the second about the form and habits of Peregrine Falcons. These are followed by Baker's diary entries as he follows a pair over the countryside near his home in Essex, England during a winter in the 1960's.

He observed them very closely, with enormous patience and effort. He wanted to join with them, to become one if he could, as though one of Ovid's metamorphoses could be brought about by sheer willpower. He got at least halfway there. This is not a normal book. It is a voice from another world.

A more or less random sample:

"He climbed vertically upward, like a salmon leaping in the great waves of air that broke against the cliff of South Wood. He dived to the trough of a wave, then rose steeply within it, flinging himself high in the air, on stretched wings exultant. At five hundred feet he hung still, tail closed, wings curving far back with their tips almost touching the tip of his tail. He was stooping horizontally forward at the speed of the oncoming wind. He rocked and swayed and shuddered, close-hauled in a roaring sea of air, his furled wings whipping and plying like wet canvas. Suddenly he plunged to the north, curved over to the vertical stoop, flourished his wings high, shrank small and fell.

He fell so fast, he fired so furiously from the sky to the dark wood below that his black shape dimmed to grey air, hidden in a shining cloud of speed. He drew the sky about him as he fell. It was final. It was death. There was nothing more. There could be nothing more. Dusk came early. Through the almost dark, the fearful pigeons flew quietly down to roost above the feathered bloodstain in the woodland ride."
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30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By LaRougerie on February 19, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is nature, hard core. The line between Baker and his prey disappears during the year he spends with these birds. Magnificent, heart-stopping, sense-exploding writing. I read it slowly because it made me more observant of everything I miss when I rush. Makes you a better creature on the earth for reading it.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By doctom on March 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of my granddaughters developed an extraordinary fascination for peregrine falcons. To accommodate, I bought a variety of peregrine-themed items (plush toy, video, maps...) and among them, this book. Every thing was delivered promptly....this book from England; but when I arrived and asked after the collection of items sent, I was met with stern criticism about the book. I had read a bit on line, and had expected the opposite. I sat down with the book and was immediately enchanted. Choosing another entry point at random, I again found myself engaged and wondrous. A third roll of the dice produced the same result. I sat my granddaughter down and began to read and to explain why what I read/heard was so marvelous. She cocked her head, spun on her heel, and was gone. "Can we play monster?" echoed from the next room.
I'm counting the days until she's six. None of you should wait, unless you're five.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Wowbagger on April 6, 2010
Format: Paperback
Although bird-watching seems at first sight a boring pursuit, the author's narrative of his tracking of peregrines over one winter is riveting. One finds oneself getting sucked into his obsession. He does not pull any punches when describing the brutality of a predatory lifestyle, but he does so so empathetically that one finds oneself increasingly seeing things from the birds' point of view. This leads to a strange but compelling mixture of the brutal and the romantic. His descriptions of the Essex countryside are also beautifully worded. Like with the birds, he describes the countryside in a style that is straightforward, i.e. not flowery, yet full of drily apt metaphors that convey the understated beauty of the countryside.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By SheldonFF on March 10, 2015
Format: Paperback
The Peregrine is a beautiful, evocative work, a majestic memoir of a solitary man’s venture deep into the English moors to track and observe a pair of peregrine falcons. Two aspects of this book deserve special praise: the mysteriousness and haunting air invested in the natural landscape and its non-human inhabitants; the lyrical and sensuous language by which this is realized.

One encounters in turns the “musky opulence” of the moors, “a land...of remembered symmetries”, where the falcon’s dark eyes “shone, and the bare skin around them glittered like salt”, his kill “like the warm embers of a dying fire”…“his butchery beautifully done”, the victim “half submerged in flooded grass, cryptic even in death”. This is a labor of love, laced with exquisite description and soulful insight.

The following, much celebrated paragraph is the raison d’etre of this delightful book, one of the most vibrant and joyful nature treatises I’ve ever read:

“Wherever he goes, this winter, I will follow him. I will share the fear, and the exaltation, and the boredom, of the hunting life. I will follow him till my predatory human shape no longer darkens in terror the shaken kaleidoscope of colour that stains the deep fovea of his brilliant eye. My pagan head shall sink into the winter land, and there be purified.”
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Stephen J. Mach on June 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
I came across this book years ago and devoured it. I have never forgotten it, the experience was so vivid that I have almost visual recollection of the author's experience...almost as if I was there with him. Its one of a few natural history writings that have marked me forever.
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