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Under a Wild Sky: John James Audubon and the Making of The Birds of America Hardcover – June 16, 2004


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; First Edition edition (June 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865476713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865476714
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Renowned for his knowledge of the American wilderness, John James Audubon (1785–1851) was equally adept at the quintessential American activity of self-invention. Arriving in New York City in 1803, the 18-year-old native of Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and illegitimate son of a French sea captain passed himself off as the Louisiana-born scion of a French admiral and claimed to have studied painting with the European master Jacques-Louis David. Audubon (even the name was false) came to the United States to manage a small estate his father co-owned near Philadelphia. Unsuccessful, he eventually tried his hand as a shopkeeper and a mill owner, but failed there, too. His passion for hunting—and for making life-size, realistically posed paintings of the animals he shot—led to the creation of his magnum opus, Birds of America, now one of the most admired works of American art. But this monumental venture was fraught with difficulties that sometimes brought the artist near the brink of despair. Audubon's work was initially scorned in the U.S.; he had to travel through Britain and France to arouse enough interest to fund the project. Even after its completion and its enthusiastic reception in Europe and the U.S., the work left the naturalist with only a modest income for a lifetime of effort. Souder (A Plague of Frogs) presents Audubon as a complex individual: a loving but distracted husband; a driven artist often plagued by doubts; a scrupulous observer of nature who thought nothing of fabricating some of his written material for dramatic effect. Sympathetic yet balanced, this account shows how much Audubon was shaped by the deep paradoxes of the time and place in which he lived. B&w illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

John James Audubon is a legend in the worlds of both art and natural history, and, like many such iconographic figures, what we know of his life is a bare-bones outline. Audubon was born, illegitimately, in Haiti in 1785. Removed to France on the eve of Haiti's slave rebellion, he was adopted by his father and wife, and remained in France until sent to the U.S. to avoid conscription into Bonaparte's army. Filling in the details of Audubon's life in America, including his failures at business, his happy marriage, and his yearning to spend all of his time exploring the wilderness, Souder takes the reader into the heart of this enigmatic, self-made artist and naturalist. Audubon not only created the most famous depictions of birds that the world has ever seen, he also created himself and his mythology at the same time. Selling subscriptions to his bird paintings also involved selling himself, and Souder follows the tale of this driven man with insight and an almost fictional narrative. A highly readable biography. Nancy Bent
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

More About the Author

William Souder is the author of three books. "A Plague of Frogs" in 2000 followed the investigation of outbreaks of deformed frogs across North America. "Under a Wild Sky," a 2004 biography of John James Audubon, won numerous awards and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. "On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson," was published by Crown in September 2012 on the 50th anniversary of Carson's "Silent Spring." Mr. Souder lives in Grant, Minnesota.

Customer Reviews

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Souder appears to be Aubudon's best friend who has been watching Audubon for years.
S. McInnis
From the first page, William Souder's excellent book drew me into its engrossing narrative, making the carefully researched details come alive.
Donald E. Zinter
This is a great book for all interested in learning about the life of the man and his work.
Virginia A. Souder

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Donald E. Zinter on January 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Like most everyone, I have been slightly familiar with Audubon's Birds of America-but I had no insight into the man or the world that produced his famous series of meticulous paintings. From the first page, William Souder's excellent book drew me into its engrossing narrative, making the carefully researched details come alive. Because of the detail and the direct writing style, the world Souder portrays seems close and immediate-almost like today-but in many ways it was light-years from today's modern world.

In detailing Audubon the man, Souder shows us a fascinating, infuriating character, obsessive in his hunting, exploring and collecting efforts, relentless in his painting, while often oblivious to his domestic responsibilities and economic situation. Reconstructing an immense amount of research materials, Souder describes Audubon's acclaim and success in Scotland and England, leading to the historic publication of the monumental Birds of America. While cutting a flamboyant, confident figure in Europe, we also see Audubon's private torments. His incompetent letters to his wife- addressing her as "dearest friend"- provokes an extended almost tragic transatlantic misunderstanding. Reading these passages should make us forever grateful for telephones!

Under a Wild Sky is full of wonderful rich description, and for this we can thank Audubon and others for having kept detailed journals and letters. But I was most impressed with Souder's ability to write in a familiar, personal style that weaves it all into a highly readable, intelligent and entertaining narrative that-as I said before-really makes the subject come alive. Highly recommended.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Virginia A. Souder on July 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
I am pleased to give my unprejudiced review of Under A Wild Sky by William Souder, my son.

The author paints a picture, in words, of a 19th century complicated man, dedicated to giving his and future generations beautiful and accurate portraits of Birds Of America. This is a great book for all interested in learning about the life of the man and his work.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on October 12, 2005
Format: Paperback
It's been over a century since naturalist John James Audubon's death, but his fame is no less for it, and author William Souder's biography Under A Wild Sky: John James Audubon And The Making Of The Birds Of America provides both a well-researched biography and an inviting leisure read recreating Audubon's time and passion. Chapters tell of the lush abundance of species Audubon was called upon to catalog, and tells of his struggle to gain recognition for his work. A 'must' for any Audubon fan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By S. McInnis on February 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
William Souder doesn't just describe Audubon's personality. Souder appears to be Aubudon's best friend who has been watching Audubon for years. Now, Souder is telling the reader how his best friend works and what drove his friend to make "Birds of America."
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