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The Big Year Paperback – February 1, 2005

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Paperback, February 1, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly

In one of the wackiest competitions around, every year hundreds of obsessed bird watchers participate in a contest known as the North American Big Year. Hoping to be the one to spot the most species during the course of the year, each birder spends 365 days racing around the continental U.S. and Canada compiling lists of birds, all for the glory of being recognized by the American Birding Association as the Big Year birding champion of North America. In this entertaining book, Obmascik, a journalist with the Denver Post, tells the stories of the three top contenders in the 1998 American Big Year: a wisecracking industrial roofing contractor from New Jersey who aims to break his previous record and win for a second time; a suave corporate chief executive from Colorado; and a 225-pound nuclear power plant software engineer from Maryland. Obmascik bases his story on post-competition interviews but writes so well that it sounds as if he had been there every step of the way. In a freewheeling style that moves around as fast as his subjects, the author follows each of the three birding fanatics as they travel thousands of miles in search of such hard-to-find species as the crested myna, the pink-footed goose and the fork-tailed flycatcher, spending thousands of dollars and braving rain, sleet, snowstorms, swamps, deserts, mosquitoes and garbage dumps in their attempts to outdo each other. By not revealing the outcome until the end of the book, Obmascik keeps the reader guessing in this fun account of a whirlwind pursuit of birding fame.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

There is a well-known competition among birders called the Big Year, in which one abandons one's regular life for one whole year in order to see more species of birds in a geographic area than one's competitors. Environmental journalist Obmascik follows the 1998 Big Year's three main competitors--a New Jersey roofing contractor, a corporate executive, and a software engineer--as they crisscross the country in search of birds. Whether looking for flamingos in the Everglades, great grey owls in the frozen bogs near Duluth, or Asian rarities on the Aleutian island of Attu, these obsessed birders not only faced seasickness, insects, altitude sickness, and going into debt, they also faced each other. Their drive to win propelled all three past the rarified count of 700 species seen, and the winner saw an extraordinary 745 species--a number that will probably never be equaled. With a blend of humor and awe, Obmascik takes the reader into the heart of competitive birding, and in the process turns everyone into birders. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 309 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group) (February 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553815512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553815511
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,636,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

68 of 69 people found the following review helpful By "rav10" on January 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
To categorize "The Big Year" as simply a birding book is to sidestep the universality of this crisply written narrative. Three men spend 365 days to satisfy a burning desire to observe more species of birds than anyone else in North America. The ultimate prize is no more than bragging rights and a place in the record books. This is obsession, nothing more or less, at its finest.
How many people are actually able to pursue their dreams? Going after a big year record takes the willingness and ability to hop a plane at a moment's notice, to travel to the kind of locales that people a little less loony would eschew, to spend copious amounts of time and money pursuing birds who very well might not be there by the time you arrive.
Obmascik captures the whole picture in a lively book that reveals the occasionally desperate spirit of the competition, the nature of the competitors and, with finely researched science and historical writing, enough background information to help the new initiate understand just why this particular sport is interesting and how it came to be. This isn't simply a book for birders. It's an actively written account that transcends birding, one that offers up a unique slice of humanity to the interested reader.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Haans on March 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As an expeienced birder I often find books about the subject less than entertaining. Not the case with The Big Year. I read it in one sitting and enjoyed every page.
I know one of the characters, Greg Miller, and ran into another, Sandy Komito during one of his numerous chases for rarities 1998, the year the book is based upon. So perhaps my enthusiasm is a little overblown, but not by much.
Mark Obmasik does an excellent job of capturing the obsession that sometimes develops among birders. His style is entertaining and very readable. I especially enjoyed the wild helicopter chase! Birding is an exciting past time. Obmasik captures that excitement.
A big year in birding is like an Ironman length triathlon. Sometimes you just have to gut it out, but in the end it is a memorable experience no matter who wins. Obmasik tells the story in a way that helps you to understand what a big year is like for the participant. Greg Miller's story is especially compelling. He has the smallest budget, the least free time,and is out of shape physically and emotionally. Yet he still manages the astounding feat of seeing over 700 species in North America in a single year.
A fun read for birders and non birders too.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read the excerpt of this book in my son's Sports Illustrated (January 19, 2004 issue) and immediately ordered a copy The Big Year. Who would have thought that three bird watchers offer the story for an article in Sports Illustrated. But this is a story of an "extreme" sport. Bird watching at the level described in The Big Year is competitive, compulsive, and compelling. When I received the book last weekend I could not put it down until I found out who won the competition and how the year ended for the three competitors. The writing is outstanding and the picture drawn of the three competitors leaves you thinking you know them. The Big Year is a great read.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David Liebers on January 28, 2008
Format: Paperback
If you enjoyed Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder, Wild America: The Record of a 30,000 Mile Journey Around the Continent by a Distinguished Naturalist and His British Colleague or anything by Scott Weidensaul, you'll enjoy Obmascik's account of an unlikely collection of birders bent on breaking records.

The concept of the Big Year is pretty simple: see as many birds as possible. Since its inception, this simple concept has ballooned into a circus of maxed out credit cards, exorbitant helicopter flights and boat rides, visits to dumps on the Mexican border, and Christmas dinners in isolated Chinese restaurants. This book chronicles three competitors and their attempts at Birdwatching glory: Sandy Komito (the hardcore favorite, record-holding former construction worker), Greg Miller (the longshot computer programmer, working with limited resources) and Al Levantin (the rich, passionate retired chemical company tycoon).

As I see it, this book has two real strengths:

1.) For those of us who dream of dropping everything, getting in a car with a pair of binoculars and seeing all the birds that had previously only been pictures in field guides, this book is both fulfilling and inspiring. Fulfilling, in that at the end of a long day, its a passable substitute for having the time to actually go out and see the rare birds. Inspiring, in its affirmation that anybody--even you--can do it, as long as you're willing to sacrifice.

Read more ›
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David B Richman on June 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Mark Obmascik has documented the "Big Year" of three extreme birders - Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller - as they try to beat a record and each other during 1998. This is more a sporting competition than natural history or science. They could just as easily had been train spotting for the largest number of different boxcars. The goal is of course to record the largest number of bird species seen in one year and they have a tough standard to play against. James Vardaman had recorded 699 birds in 1979, Benton Basham had seen 711 in 1983, Komito himself had gotten 721 in 1987, and Bill Rydell had gotten 714 in 1992. In 1998 all were trying to beat 721 and all were unbelievably driven. I won't tell you who won, but it certainly is a remarkable tale indeed!
As a sometimes birder who is a professional biologist I understand the thrill of the chase and at least these listers are not killing their quarry. However, I am a bit astonished at the amount of money and time some of these extreme birders will spend to get over 700 birds on their list in a year. I have only about 250 birds on my life list (I'm not against listing) and I doubt that I will ever make 500 for my life.
The story of their competition to reach over 721 birds in a single year is gripping, but I tend to agree with at least one of the left behind wives that they are also a little bit out of their minds. Everybody has a right to follow their dream (as long as they don't hurt others in the process) and birding is relatively harmless. I personally would prefer to get to know the birds a bit better than that. Perhaps that is a bit of academic snobbishness, but it is also my individual taste.
In any case I recommend this book to anyone who would like to try to understand the drive to record the maximum number of birds seen in a year.
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