The Atlas Of Birds: Diversity, Behavior, And Conservation, by Mike Unwin
Sadly, like its author, this book is not made of win. I read this book on the hope that, even despite its title, that it would be an enjoyable book that would be heavy on maps and light on the politics. Unfortunately, the reverse was the case. I am no stranger to enjoying birds in various ways , not least because I am a very heavy eater of chicken and turkey on account of the combination of a love of meat and a preference for being able to walk. At any rate, as someone who is fond of birds but not fond of leftist politics, it was my hope that I would be able to look at a lot of detailed maps with minimal text. Unfortunately, the author felt it necessary to pontificate in the worst possible fashion while making a book with maps with minimal information. To say this is disappointing would be a huge understatement. Still, the maps, as disappointing as they are, are far better than the text and the only reason this book is not a total waste of time for anyone to look at.
In terms of its contents, this book starts out with its best foot forward and then loses goodwill from there. The first part of this book gives an introduction to birds, with the author waxing rhapsodically about evolutionary fitness and the supposed origins of birds. Did I say this book started with its best webbed foot forward? Never mind. After this comes a pleasant look at where birds live, which include discussions on endemic birds whose habitat is extremely limited making them more vulnerable. The next part of the book looks at birds by orders, starting with the supposedly primitive raites and tinamous, moving on to gamebirds, and then storks, seabirds, birds of pray, pigeons and cuckoos, owls and hummingbirds, kingfishers and mousebirsd, and closing with perching passerines. The next part of the book looks at how birds live, including their flying as well as their walking/running and their swimming and how they find food, show off, live together, and travel along different flyways. After that the author takes a turn for the worse, looking at birds on the menu, birds in culture, and the conflicts that people have with birds. The book continues to slouch towards its end with the sixth part talks about birds under threat, where the author brings up the dubious idea of anthropogenic climate change as a causal explanation for the travails of birds, before closing with some extremely problematic calls for increased bureaucracy and regulation to save birds from ourselves. With that the book splats like a bird sailing into a window.
This book is a clear case of an author drastically misunderstanding his audience and how to best serve his aims. This book claims to be an atlas of birds, but it is an extremely rudimentary one. If the author had spent even half the time constructing beautiful maps and getting out of his own way that he spent trying to design this book in order to bolster his political worldview, this would have been a vastly better book. It seems puzzling that someone who sets out to write an atlas of birds, claiming to be “the” book on the subject, can barely manage to make maps even as page after page is spent whining about habitat destruction. The photos of the book, to be sure, are enjoyable, and the maps give at least a little bit of context even if most of them are highly superficial, even lower than the rather low National Geographic standard of cartography, but this book is immensely tedious and tiresome and manages to offend the reader whenever the author decides to stop talking about the birds and starts talking about their context. Skip this book, and eat some pheasant instead.
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