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Pilgrim on the Great Bird Continent: The Importance of Everything and Other Lessons from Darwin's Lost Notebooks Hardcover – March 7, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. When Charles Darwin set out on his voyage of discovery aboard the Beagle in 1831, he was a naïve naturalist. Upon his return to England five years later, as nature writer Haupt (Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds) capably demonstrates, he was a polished, philosophical student of nature. In fluid, lovely prose, Haupt documents this dramatic transformation, focusing on the notebooks Darwin kept during the journey. Through her selections, we see Darwin's minute observations and his understanding of the natural world, and we gain early hints of the ideas that would transform the world when he published On the Origin of Species in 1859. While Haupt presents nothing dramatically new, it is enjoyable to picture the young Darwin spending hours watching Andean condors soar and anthropomorphizing many South American birds (not just the famous finches of the Galápagos). Haupt uses Darwin's personal journey as a metaphor for our contemporary view of the natural world, expressing the hope that people today might become more attuned to their natural surroundings. Darwin, Haupt argues, reminds us "that we too are animals, connected to life, past and present.... That nothing in the natural world is beneath our notice." (Mar. 7)
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From Booklist

Those acquainted with Charles Darwin's biography know he boarded the Beagle in 1831 as a callow nature lover and disembarked five years later as an accomplished naturalist. Haupt ( Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, 2001) explores Darwin's transformation through one of his writings from the voyage, Ornithological Notes. She tightly homes in on Darwin's initial observations in South America, aware that the Galapagos Islands are perceived as the stage on which Darwin came to his insights. Less arguing a case than reimagining Darwin's thoughts, Haupt interacts with the Notes, Darwin's diary, and her own experiences to produce a ruminative sensation of what Darwin was undergoing during this observational period. Though coursing through the birds Darwin collected, Haupt's style inclines toward the abstract as it explores Darwin's conversion experience, so to speak. The effect is a personal and personable comparison of Darwin's interaction with nature with the author's own, producing the strong writer-reader bond that typifies good nature writing. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316836648
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316836647
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,437,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is an amazing book. I am a biologist and a follower of Darwin, so I ordered this book right away when I saw it reviewed in the paper. Whether your interest is in Darwin or in science and nature more generally, this book is a stand-out. The author has a solid background in philosophy of science, but she's a creative nonfiction writer. Her prose and use of language are definitely a cut above the norm for these subjects. Haupt's focus on birds and her knowledge of ornithology will please any bird-lover. In addition to offering a unique, and endearing portrait of Darwin, this book is really about a way of seeing and understanding the human relationship to the natural world. It is a reminder, as Haupt says, that "we too are animals,connected to life, past and present...that nothing in the natural world is beneath our notice." A beautiful book that will give you fresh eyes.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a tale of Darwin's becoming a true naturalist. Haupt believes that this happened sometime during the five years he spent with the survey ship Beagle, mostly ashore. Darwin was intent on absorbing and recording everything as the ship ranged up and down both sides of South America. He wanted to learn the geology, the fossils, the animals and the plants wherever he went. Occasionally, Darwin even looked up from his studies and described the human inhabitants.

By "true naturalist" Haupt means something more than a mere busybody, recording observations and collecting samples. She has used Darwin's notebooks of the Voyage (rather than his polished published account) to follow the changes in his attitudes from dutiful outside observer to a state that sometimes seemed to be a mind-meld with his subjects -- or really, by now, his fellow participants in life. Nothing was too small or ordinary to catch and hold Darwin's fascinated gaze. Perhaps, even as a young man still steeped in the traditional Chain of Being and the Christian doctrine of special creation, he tacitly believed that everything was important, everything held a clue to...what? Later, when he came to reflect philosophically on the Species Question, this great mass of detail, lightly and lovingly held, indeed served him well.

Haupt is an excellent writer and, herself a bird expert, uses Darwin's awakening to the birds of South America to locate his transformation to Naturalist. This is a book of natural history, biography, and philosophical observation that makes no pretense to be definitive. Our author is really using Darwin as an exemplar of a certain type that she admires: someone who loves Nature in all her messy particularity.
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Format: Hardcover
Both casual readers and high school to college level students of natural history and science will relish the beautifully written PILGRIM ON THE GREAT BIRD CONTINENT: THE IMPORTANCE OF EVERYTHING AND OTHER LESSONS FROM DARWIN'S LOST NOTEBOOKS. It's a different portrait which covers not just his works but the image of a naturalist who trusted his observations more than the political influences of his times or the research before him. Darwin was a bumbling amateur naturalist when he boarded the Beagle in 1831 to journey through the Galapagos. The young Darwin and his observations come to life in a survey rich with first-person reflections by the author, on her own wildlife observations.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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Format: Hardcover
Lyanda Lynn Haupt's fresh, new look at Darwin inspires one to take another look at our natural surroundings with eyes wide open, standing at full attention. Thoughtful details get more interesting as you read on. A very relevant and refreshing read!
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