- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press (April 12, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781594205217
- ISBN-13: 978-1594205217
- ASIN: 1594205213
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 322 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Genius of Birds
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“[A] gloriously provocative and highly entertaining book. Jennifer Ackerman provides a masterly survey of research in the last two decades that has produced a revolution in our understanding of bird cognition. The Genius of Birds [is] important not only for what it says about birds, but also about the human ingenuity entailed in unraveling the mysteries of the avian brain. It is at once a book of knowledge but also a work of wonder and an affirmation of the astonishing complexity of our world.” —Wall Street Journal
“Lovely, celebratory. For all the belittling of ‘bird brains,’ [Ackerman] shows them to be uniquely impressive machines…”—New York Times Book Review
“Richly researched… The Genius of Birds provides engrossing evidence that will have readers looking at birds in a completely new way.”—The Daily Progress
“A lyrical testimony to the wonders of avian intelligence.”—Scientific American
“Ackerman is a pro at parsing scientific concepts in an accessible style, and her lyrical writing underscores her appreciation for the beauty and adaptability of birds.”—BookPage
“Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Ackerman offers plenty of interesting tidbits and backs them up with the relevant history or science, using footnotes to avoid cluttering the text with anything that might slow a reader down. This is one of those terrific books that makes a scientific topic fun without dumbing it down.”—Washington Independent Review of Books
“I love birds; always have. The only thing better than love is love plus deep appreciation. The Genius of Birds is a journey of deep appreciation for the beautiful geniuses all around us, in our gardens, sharing our air, and sharing more of our minds than we might have expected.”
—Carl Safina, author of Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel
“Delightful, revolutionary, and illuminated by the clean, curious gaze of an intelligent seeker, The Genius of Birds is fueled by awe and always, its close cousin, deep respect for the condition of life. It’s a book that demands a moral consideration of the world.”
—Rick Bass, author of The Ninemile Wolves and For A Little While: New and Selected Stories
About the Author
JENNIFER ACKERMAN has been writing about science, nature, and human biology for almost three decades. Her most recent books include Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body; Ah-Choo: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold; Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity; and Notes from the Shore. A contributor to Scientific American, National Geographic, The New York Times, and many other publications, Ackerman is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction, a Bunting Fellowship, and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
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The writing by the author Jennifer Ackerman is at times beautiful ( as when she is describing the rainforest at nightfall),or laugh-out-loud funny (she discusses attempts by a bird biologist to measure intelligence in his test subjects by disguising himself, wearing at different sessions: a kimono, a wig,sunglasses, or walking with a limp, or hopping. They always recognized him). I was totally rolling when I read this, thinking of Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther movies. She is always fresh too, with new news on birds right up to this year. As things have changed dramatically in what we know about birds within the past ten years, this book is welcome as an overview, now. This is a book for bird lovers of all sorts.
There is a section about the social aspect of birds, subtitled "twitter". This is fascinating too. The reader will learn about how different types of birds bond, and how they teach their young to perform certain important actions they will eventually need to survive. Also discussed is how some types of birds teach others in their particular "group" techniques they have been trained. , Incredibly, researchers have taught certain birds to open feeders in a special manner. They then were able to watch and track as their trained birds performed the tasks in the woods. The birds they had trained managed to train additional wild members to do exactly as they did, What collaborative little creatures!
Further on, you learn about vocal virtuosity. I particularly love bird song, as I find it incredibly uplifting. I didn't know that birds must be tutored to sing however. I understand this now, from this book.In this chapter you learn that among Thomas Jefferson's favorite pets were his mockingbirds. Later,when you read about Honey Child, a hand raised mockingbird, your jaw will drop with amazement at the repertoire of his songs, which he would add to and occasionally drop throughout the length of his life. Woodpeckers, wrens, jays, you name it, Honey Child is worth the read! You will learn that this intricate process of vocal learning is termed "advanced", because, it's done "our way", eg., the way humans teach their children, and the way children learn to selectively speak.The male songbirds who have better songs appeal to the females more, too.As the author writes, "Listening for super-sexy syllables allows female canaries to rule out males with poor bilateral co-ordination" This is important, if you are a lady canary!
Read on, through this award-winning author's book, to learn about birds who decorate: "the bird artist", birds who can map: "a mapping mind" and finally, sparrows: "sparrowville".
This is a book to curl up with in the winter, or to take along on your cruise. It doesn't really have photos, just a few sketches of birds opening each chapter, but that is not the point of this book. The Genius of Birds is about behaviors, patterns, reversal learning, which bird is the "world's dumbest"--yes, it has an offering for that, but not the author's (and I cracked up at that part!!!), the importance of studying birds in their natural environment to learn more and better understand them, and plenty more. The Genius of Birds is a big read, but nothing in it is wasted on the willing reader. I applaud Ackerman for taking me outside and to all sorts of amazing places, when she wrote this uplifting, extraordinary book about beautiful, beautiful birds.
Author Jennifer Ackerman writes in a somewhat dry manner, but she makes the extensive research on bird intelligence accessible and leaves the reader wanting more. How do birds carry out those vast migrations, how do they find their way home, why do male birds pour their hearts out in song and why do female birds choose their mates by these efforts? These and many other questions are explored, with no final answers, but the raising of more questions. Why does the bower-bird build elaborate, artistic structures to impress potential mates? Do birds appreciate beauty itself? Well, you can't stop reading.
The book is extensively referenced for readers who want to pursue the topic in more depth. I only wish the author had included some illustrations--the basic anatomy of the avian brain would have been helpful. Or, some of the tools birds make. Or those incredible "bowers" that bower-birds build for their music and dance performances. Still, this is an outstanding book and I recommend it highly. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.