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Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds by [Boria Sax]

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Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds Kindle Edition

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Editorial Reviews


"Birds can go wherever they want, muses Boria Sax in Avian Illuminations, his wide-ranging, wistful history of human connections with the bird world, from the first drawings on cave walls to Rachel Carson's dire warnings. Some birds may beat their wings, some might just prefer to let themselves be carried by the wind. It is almost impossible, writes Mr. Sax, 'to imagine this sort of freedom.'"
Christoph Irmscher, 
Wall Street Journal, 11/19/2021

"Captivating and graced with exquisite illustrations, Boria Sax's 
Avian Illuminations blends history, folklore, art, literature, and ornithology to explain why birds are such an integral part of human dreams and aspirations . . . Avian Illuminations, with its rich content and glorious illustrations, educates, entertains, and aims a body-blow to human pride with its reminder that when birds reigned as dinosaurs, human ancestors were still "relatively small marsupial-like balls of fur."' — Foreword Reviews

"Boria Sax has long been my most trusted guide to understanding the complex relationships between humans and animals. In
Avian Illuminations, I feel very fortunate to follow his wonderful mind once again as he weaves a complex portrait of the symbolic richness of our portrayals of birds throughout history and myth."
Cerdowen Dovey, author,
Blood Kin, Only the Animals

"If there were ever a moment when a book was necessary, it is this moment and this book. With his wonderful
Avian Illuminations, Dr Sax, with his customary erudition and breadth of knowledge, traces in rich and fascinating detail the cultural relationships between humans and birds through history, philosophy, religion and art. The book makes clear the vast debt we as humans, owe to birds and other species and redresses many of the idées fixes which have allowed humans to underestimate the capacities and capabilities of other species for centuries. This is a book for difficult times—it entertains, educates, elucidates and, in its assessment of what might be necessary to repair a damaged world, gives us hope."
Esther Woolfson, author Corvus,
Notes from a Hidden City, Between Light and Storm

'From Homer to Harry Potter and Plato to Rachel Carlson, Boria Sax provides a masterful overview of the role of birds in human cultural and psychological life. Drawing on history, literature, mythology and art, 
Avian Illuminations is a beautifully written intellectual treat that will delight anyone interested in the feathered creatures we share our world with. The material is fascinating; the scholarship and intellectual breadth is amazing.'
Hal Herzog, Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina; author 
of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard To Think Straight About Animals
"Avian Illuminations is a fascinating exploration of those ecstatic moments when a human becomes enraptured by contemplation of a bird - moments which, as Boria Sax explains, can approach a religious level of intensity. I never imagined that birds had occupied so many roles in human lives and imaginings and through such a deep swath of history. An inspiring and fascinating read." Clive Wynne, Professor of Psychology and Animal Studies, University of Arizona; Author,
Animal Cognition, Dog is Love --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

About the Author

Boria Sax teaches at Sing Sing Prison and online in the graduate literature program at Mercy College. He is the author of many books. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B092ZXZPK7
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Reaktion Books (October 11, 2021)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 11, 2021
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 47417 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 507 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.4 4.4 out of 5 stars 8 ratings

About the author

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I first became interested in the literature of animals around the end of the 1980s, not terribly long after I had obtained my Ph.D. in German and intellectual history. I was feeling frustrated in my search for an academic job and even the study of literature. By accident, I came across an encyclopedia of animals that had been written in the early nineteenth century. There, without any self-consciousness, was a new world of romance and adventure, filled with turkeys that spoke Arabic, beavers that build like architects, and dogs that solve murders. Within a few months, I had junked my previous research and devoted my studies to these texts.

Today, I shudder at how nervy the switch was for a destitute young scholar, who, despite one book and several articles, had not managed to obtain any steady job except mopping floors. But soon I managed to publish two books on animals in literature, The Frog King (1990) and The Parliament of Animals (1992). Around 1995, I founded Nature in Legend and Story (NILAS, Inc.), an organization that combines storytelling and scholarship. It was initially a rag-tag band of intellectual adventurers who loved literature but could not find a niche in the scholarly world. We put together a few conferences, which generated a lot of excitement among the few who attended, but little notice in academia or in what they sometimes call "the real world."

From fables and anecdotes, I moved to mythology, and published The Serpent and the Swan (1997), a study of animal bride tales from around the world. This was followed by many further publications including an examination of the darker side of animal studies, Animals in the Third Reich (2000), and a sort of compendium, The Mythical Zoo (2002), and a cultural history of corvids entitled Crow (2003). My most recent book is City of Ravens: London, its Tower and its Famous Ravens (2011), and Imaginary Animals: The Monstrous, the Wondrous and the Human (2013). My most recent books are Dinomania: Why We Love, Fear and are Utterly Fascinated by Dinosaurs (2016) and Avian Illuminations: A Cultural History of Birds (2022). I am currently finishing up a cultural history of forests. My books have been translated into many languages and won awards for scholarship.

When I embarked on the study of animals in myth and literature, even graduate students did not have to mention a few dozen books just to show that they had read them. In barely more than a couple decades, the literature on human-animal relations has grown enormously in both quantity and sophistication. But as the study of animals becomes more of a standard feature of academic programs, I fear that something may be lost. It is now just a little too easy to talk about the "social construction" and the "transgression" of "boundaries" between animals and human beings. Even as I admire the subtlety of such analysis, I sometimes find myself thinking, "So what?"

Having been there close to the beginning, part of my role is now to preserve some of the sensuous immediacy, with that filled the study of animals in literature when it was still a novelty. That sort of "poetry" is not simply a luxury. With cloning, genetic engineering, and the massive destruction of natural habitats, we face crises so unprecedented that traditional philosophies, from utilitarianism to deep ecology, can offer us precious little guidance. The possibilities are so overwhelming that we hardly even know what questions to ask. But neither, I am sure, did the fugitive who once encountered a mermaid in the middle of the woods.

Boria Sax

Customer reviews

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4.4 out of 5
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Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 24, 2021
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Reviewed in France 🇫🇷 on April 30, 2022
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