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The Thing with Feathers: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human Hardcover – March 20, 2014
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"Mr. Strycker has the ability to write about the worlds of man and fowl without simplifying either.... He thinks like a biologist but writes like a poet, and one of the small pleasures of The Thing With Feathers is watching him distill empirical research into lyrical imagery.... Part the palm fronds behind his sentences, and you can almost see the British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough standing there in a pith helmet, smiling with amused approval at Mr. Strycker's off-center sensibility." – Wall Street Journal
“The Thing With Feathers turns a shrewd, comparative eye on a succession of bird families to explore what [Strycker] calls their ‘human’ characteristics…This is an engaging work which illuminates something profound about all life, including our own.” – The Economist
"Intelligence, altruism, self-awareness, love . . . Strycker is especially engaging describing his own fieldwork with penguins and albatrosses . . . As Strycker writes, 'By studying birds, we ultimately learn about ourselves.'" – New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
"[A] fun and enlightening read. Strycker knows words as well as birds; he has the literary chops to make the results of very complex experiments accessible." – Newsweek
"Strycker has a keen eye for what is most interesting about each species, and he presents each bird story with tight language, humor and even an occasional splash of self-consciousness . . . this is a lively and vibrant book. Bird journalism of the highest order. Bird journalism that crackles." – The Washington Post
"One of the best bird books you’ll read this decade. Guaranteed." – BirdWatching
"Beautifully written, filled with strange and lovely details, The Thing with Feathers is a delightful read from start to finish." – The Boston Globe
"It is Strycker's ability to see and draw connections between bird behavior and humanity that make The Thing with Feathers difficult to put down. . . The Thing with Feathers encourages reflection on one's own assumptions about the perceived limitations of the animal kingdom." – The Oregonian
"Strycker marshals original reporting and scientific studies to argue the simple yet radical notion that birds have something to teach us about our own humanity. Spend some time with this book." – Audubon
"Birds intrigue humanity, and in this research round-up Noah Strycker reveals why - in marvels such as the equal-radius paths of flocking starlings and the decontamination chamber that is a vulture's stomach. As he notes, such findings can mirror human realities." – Nature
"Noah Strycker all but lassos readers with his binocular strap to bring people nose to beak with the plumed creatures he knows so well. . . [an] edifying and entertaining book." – Science News
"Lovely, provocative..." – Robert Krulwich, NPR
"Fascinating" – Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“The Things With Feathers will encourage you to take a closer look at the natural world around you, and perhaps learn more not only about what you see but who you are." – Seattle Times
“[Strycker] combines the latest in ornithological science with snippets of history and his own vast experience in the field to hatch a thoroughly entertaining examination of bird behavior… In Strycker’s absorbing survey, we find out how much fun it is simply to watch them.” – Booklist, STARRED
“[Strycker’s] prose is difficult to stop reading.” – Publishers Weekly
“A delightful book with broad appeal.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A dazzling variety of avian subjects, including connections between birds and humans.” – Library Journal
“There’s bird watching, then there is obsessing over why nearly 2,500 different species do the things they do. That’s Noah Strycker, and this lovely book is compelling to those that chart the different birds they see on walks, and the rest of us who just gaze longingly at them as they fly through the air.” – Flavorwire
“Noah Strycker explores the increasing likelihood that birds enjoy a vastly richer intellectual, emotional and even artistic life than we smug humans have ever suspected. Read this book.” – Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind and The First Frontier
"As the 'owner' of a dancing Green-cheeked Conure, as a life-long pigeon-lover, seabird researcher, and falcon enthusiast, I can tell you that not only is this book full of solid information—I expected that—but as a writer I am astonished at how loose and easy Noah Strycker has made the reading for us. This is an insightful and wonderfully companionable book. I can’t wait to read more from Strycker; meanwhile we have this gem." – Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and The View From Lazy Point.
“A thoughtful, engaging book, encompassing pigeon races, physics, vulture baiting, the Backstreet Boys, and a mathematical model applicable to both tennis rankings and chicken hierarchies—a work of dazzling range, nimbly written.” – Brian Kimberling, author of Snapper
“I’ve read books about birds all of my life and this is the one I’ve been waiting for. Birds have a great deal to teach us. Strycker loves birds, understands their magic and mystery, and can extrapolate from their behavior wisdom for us all. At last we have a book worthy of this subject.” – Mary Pipher, author of The Green Boat
Top Customer Reviews
The male bower bird, for instance, spends ten months a year building, decorating, and perfecting an nest-like area that only serves to impress potential mates. Once the female bower bird has been sufficiently impressed by the male's building and decorating accomplishments, they mate, then she flies off to build her own nest and raise her chicks on her own. The male continues to work on his bower, and may mate with a dozen female bower birds per season. Since there's no apparent practical value in the bower itself, one wonders, is it art?
Magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror, unlike other birds, and most mammals. Does this mean they have a sense of self, that they can recognize their reflections outside of themselves?
Nutcrackers have amazing memories, recalling hundreds of locations where they've stored seeds for the winter. Having eliminated smell, luck, and some kind of marking system as methods of finding the seeds, researchers are convinced the nutcrackers memorize where the seeds are much the same way we would, by relying on landmarks and other patterns to remember.
When birds and animals exhibit behavior that we typically think of as human, it's difficult not to anthropomorphize. Strycker keeps this to a minimum, but does occasionally make cutesy comments about the birds. And when it came to albatrosses, who mate for life, he was quite lyrical about romantic love.Read more ›
Each chapter focuses on the wonders of a particular bird, including homing pigeons, mummerating starlings, fighting hummingbirds, self aware magpies, and architecturally gifted bowerbirds, but from there the discourse spreads out to include such topics as neuroscience, the definition of art, game theory, memory palaces, altruism, the fight or flight response, and what unique species qualities are left to humans (a diminishing list). There were just a few stories I found disturbing, like the one about his friend who hates non-native starlings so much he relishes shooting them with an air gun, clipping their wings, and feeding them disabled but alive to hawks (which Strycker reported as a field scientist neither condemning nor applauding), but those are the exception. Most of the book totally enthralled me with wonderful birds, vicarious birding adventures, and thoughtful commentary.
I read an advanced review copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing. The opinions are mine.
I didn't know quite what to expect of a book that was advertised as being about the interesting behaviors of birds but also about what birds could teach us about being human. That idea made me nervous and I imagined miscellaneous swamps that the book might have strayed into.
I was wrong. I won't even try to describe how this concept is handled, I'll just say that it works not only well, but almost transparently, with an impression of effortless grace that most authors don't ever achieve. Loren Eiseley and Diane Ackerman come to mind (though Strycker is a much more cheerful writer). Some of the chapters are a little stronger than others, but the overall level is very high.
I know from my own work as a writer and editor that this impression of extraordinary smoothness and naturalness in transitions in a work filled - even stuffed - with technical detail takes a lot of effort to achieve, and even a writer whose tale-telling habits are as good as Noah's must have fiddled and adjusted quite a bit, but the effort paid off. The detail about bird behavior is almost universally fascinating yet unobtrusive. I learned many new things from the book (including new truths about my own nose (I'll let you find out for yourselves), but never once felt that I was stumbling over too many ornithological factlets.
In recent years I have been one of the principal proofreaders for Oregon State University Press and I have an eye for typos. I saw exactly one in the whole book.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A wonderful book. I've given or recommended it to everyone I know who enjoys animals.Published 6 days ago by Susan Garzon
A fun book with good information but I didn't find that it held up to the stellar review in the New York Times Book Review.Published 7 days ago by walkabout303
Loved this book. So much interesting information about birds and more. Bowerbird nests are so incredible and I never knew about them before. Read morePublished 1 month ago by K Gibson
A fun and informative read on the remarkable capabilities of birds and our relationships with them. Well researched but written for the all.Published 1 month ago by biology reader
I read this as a book club "read", a responsibility to my peers. I was surprisingly drawn in and found it completely fascinating. Will never see birds as "bird brains" again.Published 3 months ago by carolyn bernstein
This is a well-written collection of "biographies" of different birds. Each story helps you appreciate how intriguing these birds are.Published 3 months ago by Joel Austin
I thoroughly enjoyed the copy I bought for myself so I bought a second copy for a bird-lover friend.Published 3 months ago by Never a Dull Moment Acres Farm