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Customer Review

312 of 331 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short book with great meaning, April 27, 2005
This review is from: Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Paperback)
It's really amazing that this book, published in 1970, got onto the top sellers of all time list. It is barely 127 pages long - and that includes many pages of seagull photos, with very few words per page. The margins are very large :) It's a story about a seagull who, unlike his comrades, is not happy yelling "Mine! Mine! Mine!" for food. He loves to soar, and fly. He faces rejection and ridicule for his quest for greater heights. And of course, he inspires all of us to reach for our goals.

So first, obviously this book is REALLY short. I just re-read it and, without racing at all, I was done in 16 minutes. It's very short. There aren't long, drawn out characterizations here. Jonathan learns to fly well in about 2 pages, and by page 31 he is fully aware of all of his skills. By page 57 he in "Heaven" - or at least in another stage of life in with like-minded seagulls, speaking with telepathy. Chiang is the elder there who tells Jonathan that there actually is no Heaven - that Heaven is the state of being perfect. Jonathan decides to return to Earth and help others. He spends a few pages teaching Fletcher his skills, and then vanishes, leaving Fletcher to teach the new seagull students how to fly. The story ends.

Really, the story here is that Jonathan and Fletcher were not "special" in any way. The point is made many times that they were seagulls like any others. The difference is that they chose to strive to better themselves. They were not content to merely eat and sleep. They wanted to become really good at what they could do - fly. The elders explain that for many people, this process takes many lifetimes. If you do well in a given life, you graduate to a "higher" life where you can then work with people on your next stage of progress. If you just get by in your current life, then you get reborn into that same level, to have another chance to strive.

So it's very interesting how different people have interpreted this book to be a religious tome. Christians often say that Jonathan stands for Jesus. He was born "with men" - he learns his special skills, and then he returns to earth to help guide mankind to be better. There's even a mob scene where the "normal seagulls" try to kill Jonathan for being different. On the other hand, the story clearly says there is no Heaven - that the point of life is to keep trying and trying until you figure out your own path to perfection. The reincarnation and perfection-from-within is very Buddhist. It's not an external God that gives you this perfection. You are born with the innate ability to attain perfection - but it is up to you to find the desire and take the steps to reach it.

I've owned this book for many years and do enjoy it. But I do have to say that it is REALLY short and really basic. The whole Jonathan evolution is barely touched on. You don't get much sense of growth as he instantly goes from normal seagull to glowing Special Seagull. This is sort of a theological primer for those who don't normally read books on philosophy. There are many, many books out there that get into these sorts of topics in a far more meaningful way. But on the other hand, much as the Matrix series got many non-philosophy students to learn about some pretty basic philosophical ideas, this book also opened the door for many people on the ideas of striving for inner perfection. If you handed all of these people a complex tome on the topic, they probably wouldn't have read it. But maybe by getting that door opened, and that interest piqued, they then went forward and learned more. You have to get that interest started somewhere. If the interest came from a super-short, super easy to read, picture-filled booklet, does it really matter?

On a personal note, I really do feel that people need to sit back and consider what they spend their hours each day doing. We only have one life - and most of us who can afford to buy books have an amazing wealth of luck that 90% of the world's population dreams of having. We have clothes, we have places to sleep, we have access to healthy food and water. It would be a wonderful thing if each of us spent even a portion of our day reaching out to help others, to help the world become a better place for us all to live in. We don't need to watch TV - there are other far more important things to do in life.
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 1, 2006 6:57:09 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 1, 2006 7:06:55 AM PST
Hsiaoshuang says:
Dear Lisa,

In 1970-1972 I left secondary school and went into the army as part of Singapore's compulsory National Service. My mother had just died, my father was extremely poor and my monthly pay from the army was a mere $90 (about US$60). I was grieving, unfocussed and confused. Then I read Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, and what it did to me was what you have described: "this book also opened the door for many people on the ideas of striving for inner perfection".

Today, I'm a comfortably semi-retired journalist who can afford an entire room stocked with books. And I now belong to the class of people those who can afford to buy books, and as you put it so aptly, having "an amazing wealth of luck that 90% of the world's population dreams of having..."

Last week I translated a Tang Dynasty poem on retirement [Night Thoughts of a Traveller, by Tu Fu] where the last line compares the poet's life to "a seagull between heaven and earth". This line was used as the title of the Chinese translation of Jonathan Livingstone Seagull. I sent my translated poem to several friends with a comment urging them to read JLS as well. I told them the story was extremely short and would take no more than 30 minutes. I even volunteered to buy the book from Amazon for them. That was how I ended up reading your insightful, startling review, particularly the last paragraph. Thank you very much.

Francis Chin,

Posted on Dec 18, 2011 7:21:05 AM PST
Amazon buyer says:
If everyone could be just as honestly reflective and inspired a reader of good books like yourself; then making it a personal responsibility of own selves to put into action the virtues of helping others (who are less well placed in this world and in their lives), won't at all be so unrealistic a motive for the empty consuming/consumerist living (which the inhabitants, promoters and supporters of the industrialized nations and countries find very unimportant and ignorable.)

These monopolistic acts of violence, manipulation, exploitations, cruelties, torturous raising of carnage of targeted individuals, groups and nations, the utter poisoning and destruction of lands with weapons and bombs during self-created wars won't take place. And most important of all, people everywhere will be aware of the fact that there is a God watching over us all... and that our choices and decisions are forever ours to contend and reckon with.

Yet, the world is built on hope. And good natured, life-caring people will remain wise, and try their best to share life constructive knowledge with others as this writer did.

What we can do is to spread the education, to learn to live in harmony and not allow anything dubious to happen in our surroundings and our groups and communities. That is where the motivation from the pen ship comes and propels learned individuals to change the lives and destinies even all by themselves, for their zeal and persistent efforts to deliberately create an error in this very erroneous world's agencies that conspire to sustain chaos and destruction all around and fill in the hearts and minds of otherwise good people, with hatred and greed that they succumb to, so easily. That always is, sadly, to a point of no return. At that time, no amount of regret, guilt and sorry for redemption can be beneficial.

It is true, that we get only one life to live on this earth. We all might live, learning good things, life-sustaining things, practicing justice and balance in everything that we do for only to benefit ourselves and each other, for wholesome better living - emotionally, intellectually, physically, economically, socially, civically and spiritually.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 1, 2012 11:45:23 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Nov 25, 2012 8:10:58 AM PST
Carlo says:
Enjoyed your review of JLS but thought your last sentence was inappropriate. Television is like another other medium or tool and can be used as an instrument for teaching, learning and sharing with others.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 25, 2012 12:07:34 PM PST
Lisa Shea says:
In general the phrase "watching TV" is a colloquial phrase which implies that the person is sitting back allowing mindless entertainment TV with commercials run past the screen. In comparison, when someone is for example carefully studying a cooking channel instructional video on properly baking a turkey that is generally not lumped into the category of "watching TV".

The average person, when they die, has spent **9 years** of time watching TV. No matter what material is on that TV, that is far too much time staring at a screen. Let's say a tiny portion of that is educational. We can still look at total waste here. The average 65 year old has seen **2 million** 30-second commercials. That is 1 million minutes, 16666 hours, 694 days, nearly 2 years.

I treasure every day. There is no way I am going to *lose* 2 years of my life to watching commercials.

If I want to learn about something, and the only way is to get video instruction, then I always prefer to rent / buy a DVD to get it without commercials. Video instruction would not be my first choice though. If I want to learn yoga, I would rather learn in person, from an interactive human.

Posted on Nov 20, 2013 2:00:09 PM PST
This is a very good analysis.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2013 2:06:58 PM PST
Lisa Shea says:
Thank you so much, Linda! I do my best to write reviews which are helpful to others.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2013 4:26:03 PM PST
That's probably one of the reasons you've made a well deserved name for yourself.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2013 4:29:10 PM PST
Lisa Shea says:
Linda, you are very sweet! I figure my time is precious, and if I'm going to invest it in writing a review, I should do the best job I can with it.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 20, 2013 5:11:38 PM PST
I agee absolutely. I recalled your name from your reviews on' Robert B. Parker's Spenser series. Since he is one of my favorite and I've read the whole collection, and since your reviews are often featured and in depth... Even my fluky memory wasn't overtaxed, lol.

What you say about doing your best since time is precious fits this book very well.
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