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John James Audubon: The Making of an American Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 12, 2004

4.8 out of 5 stars 43 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Born in 1785 in Saint Domingue (now Haiti), the bastard son of a French naval officer and a chambermaid, Audubon was taken to France by his father and then sent to America in 1803 to escape conscription into Napoleon's army. He began drawing birds as a child, and in America this passion grew into an obsession. His business ventures failed, and he was often short of money, but for him, birds overshadowed everything except his devotion to his wife, Lucy, who encouraged him in all his endeavors and supported the family when he went on quests for new birds to paint. Traveling into the American wilderness, Audubon, completely at home on the frontier, observed birds endlessly, and in 1826 set off for Europe to spend years promoting his multi-volume Birds of America. His life makes an engaging story, and Pulitzer Prize winner Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) chronicles every aspect of it, the commonplace as well as the audacious, in this thoroughly researched biography. Rhodes's prose style is subtle, enlivened by passages from Audubon's own letters and journals, and he presents an agreeable picture of a man who charmed almost everyone he met, remained devoted to his wife even though he abandoned her for years at a time and was not above lying about his birth and other details of his life. Perhaps most important, Rhodes succeeds in shedding light on how Audubon perfected his ability to capture in his depictions of birds so much life and emotion that they transcend traditional wildlife painting. Illus. throughout; 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Scientific American

"The sharp cries of gulls wheeling above the East River docks welcomed the handsome young Frenchman to America." Born in 1785 the illegitimate son of a French planter on Saint Domingue (now Haiti) and raised in France, the handsome young man transformed himself into the consummate American. Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Making of the Atomic Bomb, traces this journey with insight ("studying birds was how he mastered the world, and himself") and vivid language. In particular, Audubon's wife, Lucy--a beautiful, adventurous Englishwoman whom he met shortly after arriving in America--emerges as a full, and patient, partner in Audubon's single-minded enterprise to develop a technique that would breathe life back into the birds he drew and to catalogue the birds of North America in a "collection not only valuable to the scientific class, but pleasing to every person." The book includes several color reproductions to remind us just how well Audubon succeeded. If this biography inspires you to read more about birds, two other recent books stand out: The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, by Phillip Hoose (Melanie Kroupa Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), and On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon, by Alan Tennant (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).

Editors of Scientific American


This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf (October 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414126
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414121
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.4 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #682,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on February 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This fantastic book has something for everyone. Rhodes does an excellent job of breathing life into Audubon the man without losing touch of Audubon the artist or Audubon the scientist. In the process, he paints a vivid portrait of America of the early 19th century. This is an outstanding work of biography, naturalism, and history wrapped up in one great book.

Born to a French planter on what is present day Haiti and raised in France, Audubon came to America at a young age. As he endures a few business failures, Audubon turns back to his first loves: birds and painting. In an age prior to photography, he goes to great lengths to capture the true likeness of birds on paper with the ultimate goal of creating a complete (as possible) catalog of American birds. Some might be shocked by his methods. Few birders today would encourage the hunting of birds as a means of appreciating their beauty. But, we must keep in mind the times he came from and that without this method much of our knowledge of birds would be limited. One thing I truly enjoyed about this biography was the view as Audubon as a man who not only painted birds but knew about them in minute detail because he studies them in the field. It brims over with adventure as Audubon goes on many of his missions to gather more birds. Further, Rhodes does not make the mistake of many a biographer: thoroughly examining their subject while presenting one-dimensional portraits of the other folks in the subject' life. Numerous people, including friends and relatives, are depicted in all their dimensions and shed further light on Audubon and his times. Of particular note is Audubon's wife Lucy, without whom it is doubtful that he could have accomplished all he did.
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Format: Hardcover
When I saw that Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Rhodes had written a new biography of John James Audubon, I rushed to acquire it, knowing that Rhodes had a solid reputation as a good writer and a thorough historian. While this latest book by Rhodes is certainly rich in biographical detail and presents a full picture of its subject, it is somewhat disappointing insofar as it gives relatively limited attention to what made Audubon famous-his interest and talent in natural history, particularly birds.

Rhodes describes the crucial events in Audubon's life very thoroughly, digging into primary documents quite ably and portraying his subject in a way that is bound to leave any reader with a full understanding of Audubon the man and his relationship with the key players in his life, including his long-suffering wife and two talented sons. But he devotes far more attention to the earliest part of Audubon's life than he does to the artist's final years. This is especially frustrating because Audubon's early life was beset with failures in business ventures that are really not that interesting or important to understanding the man, and the final years of his life included a pioneering trip up the Missouri River to the Yellowstone country, collecting mammals for his last published work.

The most striking weakness of the book is Rhodes's limited knowledge of birds. It is perhaps because of this deficit in the author's background that he devotes relatively little attention to the avian species which Audubon discovered and was the first to paint. While Rhodes states that he plans to include the modern names of bird species in parentheses after the archaic names from Audubon's time for those species where this is warranted, he does so inconsistently.
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Format: Hardcover
A new and extensive biography of a man revered but really little known. His pictures of birds are still reprinted. He managed to capture the essence of the bird in a way that really hasn't been done since. He captured in his drawings a feeling that this was the birds life. He captured this in a time before the camera. He was able to capture a sense of movement, of flight that still today is astounding.

We know the work of Audubon, but little about him or his life. We now know that he observed the birds, shot a few of them, posed them using wire to hold them in place, drew his pictures and had the birds for dinner. (Not something I suspect that the Audubon society puts at the beginning of their literature.)

Audubon's story is almost a defining story for what America was supposed to be. The illegitimate son of the French middle class, coming to America at 18 in part to escape serving in Napoleon's army. He made a marriage out of love that survived failing businesses, moves about the interior of the country and finally a long separation as he went to England to promote his masterpiece, a book of paintings of all of the (known) birds of North America.

This book is more than just a biography, it is also a history of a side of America not usually discussed. Among other things it covers the big earthquake in Missouri, the first railroads, a story of the middle part of America.
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Format: Hardcover
This is truely a remarkable work. Not only does the author give us a picture of a man, most know little of, his works maybe, but not the man, but also a wonderful look at a country most of us seldom consider. Academic and popular history works tend to flit over this period of our nations history, in particular this aspect of it. In this volume we have a history of a man, a history of art and history of a new country, one which we will never see again. Per usual, Mr. Rhodes has given us a well researched, well written book, simply full of facts and points we should all ponder. Birders of today, myself included, will be and was, rather shocked at Audubon's methodology, but we must remember the times Audubon lived and be a bit open minded about it. I like to compare this work with "The Cotton Kingdom," another work that gives us great insight to early America. All this and a very nice little love story thrown in to boot. What more could we ask for? This new biography was certainly needed and I am please that a author of Mr. Rhodes' calibre decided to take the task on. Recommend you actually purchase this one as it is a book you will probably want to give a second reading down the road...I know I will. I highly recommend.
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