A book you’ll want to buy—and give

August 21, 2011 • 11:35 am

Almost a year ago to the day I began a week-long series of posts on the peregrine falcon. I was inspired to do that by reading The Peregrine, an account by John A. Baker of a year he spent watching peregrines hunt in Essex.  I said at the time that it was among the best nature books I ever read.  Let me revise that judgment: it is the best nature book I’ve ever read.  And you’ll want to read it, too, if you have any interest in nature, or birds, or simply in beautiful prose. I gave a sample of Baker’s prose in each of the posts I made during Peregrine Week.  Do have a look; I know of no naturalist or scientist who writes better

The book has been hard to find: it was long out of print but was republished in 2004 as a New York Review of Books Classic.  Baker had one other book, The Hill of Summer, which is out of print (it’s not even in my university library), and which I’m almost afraid to read for fear it could never come close to the quality of The PeregrineThe Hill of Summer appears to be a more general treatment of Essex and natural history.  Baker also had one published essay, “On the Essex Coast,” which appeared in RSPB Birds in 1971.  I haven’t read that one, either.

I’m really  pleased, then, to see that all of Baker’s published and unpublished writings—including his diary—plus some biographical information (I could never find out much about him) has been compiled and will be issued by HarperCollins in one volume on September 1: The Hill of Summer & Diaries: The Complete Works of J. A. Baker.

You can buy it on Amazon here, and also read a fair bit about Baker’s life by clicking on the book cover.

Trust me, you can’t make a better investment for $13.57.  It’s also a perfect gift for nature lovers; I’ve given out several copies of The Peregrine myself, and, without exception, the recipients have loved it.

h/t: Todd

20 thoughts on “A book you’ll want to buy—and give

  1. I enjoyed ‘The Peregrine’ a lot, although I found it just a bit too intense/poetic at times. Stirring stuff, though.

    But, for the best nature book of all time, I would probably nominate Roger Deakin’s ‘The Wild Wood’, or Richard Mabey’s ‘Nature Cure’.

    1. Fair enough. Perhaps other readers will chime in with their favorites, and then we can all expand our “want” list.

      I tend to like poetic prose, hence my love of the novels of Thomas (not Tom) Wolfe.

  2. I’ll nominate “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. Another good one is “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey.

  3. It was Bud Tordoff, director Bell Museum of Natural History, UM-TC, who introduced me to “The Peregrine.” Tordoff did a lot here in peregrine reintroduction (His graduate work on crossbills, though, is classic.). What a gentleman. We were talking about books and he said he’d bet that I’d never heard of a book he read once a year and that he recommend I read. I hadn’t and I’ve been forever grateful for this conversation. By the way, it was interesting when I ordered it for when I went to pick it up, it turned out to be a mystery novel (!) and I had to wait a week for Baker’s book. I don’t read it as often as Tordoff did but recommend more often than once a year. I often forget when I’m reading it that there is an observer-writer, so in the background he seems to me. I’ve both wanted and not wanted to know anything about Baker but have made a couple of probes. I look forward to the publication of Baker’s complete works. I’m pleased that you recommended this book and hope it remains a tradition. Thanks.

  4. For the Europeans among us, I can recommend either the same version or the one in this link, which is only ‘The Peregrine’ and not the diaries etc., but from amazon.co.uk, which is generally cheaper and faster for not only the Brits, but also continental Europeans, comme moi.
    The Peregrine
    And yes, I have ordered it, and am looking forward to reading it! 🙂

  5. Oh, jeez. I bought The Peregrine on your original recommendation. Has that been sitting on my must read pile for a whole year?

    1. That was actually my first reaction, too — has it really been a year since that post? Frankly, I didn’t think I had been hanging ’round these here parts that long…man, I’m getting old….



        1. What, so you whippersnappers can have all the glory? Fat chance!

          Now, get off my lawn! Well, okay, get off the weedy gravel plot in front of the house where the truck garden will go….


  6. I’m sitting, looking at my bookshelves, and I notice that there’s bugger all on nature. This book would be a good beginning, I think. I just saw that there’s a copy in the New York Public Library, but as seems to be the case with a depressingly large number of their books, you can only read it in the library.

    On reading the various posts above, I was reminded of Thomas Hardy’s poem, Afterwards, whose second verse is:

    If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
    The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
    Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
    ‘To him this must have been a familiar sight.’

  7. I’m feeling rather righteous that I ordered my copy from NYRB Classics given that amazon does not want to collect taxes for the state of California, where I live. It’s politics, I know, but amazon benefits immensely from the CA blue-state market and this little corporate “hissy fit” they’re throwing has pushed me to boycott. word to the wise—or those wishing to flex their consumer muscles.

  8. I was in our local library looking at the ethics section and was surprised that there were no books about Southend…..

  9. “The Peregrine” is a great book and I haven’t read it for a few years now, I must dig it out. However, my recommendation is, “Adventure Lit Their Star” by Kenneth Allsop. It describes the colonisation, in novel form, of the UK by the Little Ringed Plover. The story is told from the point of view of the birds and the birdwatchers. It’s a bit of a classic in the UK and first editions are hard to find. However, it was published in the States as my copy is American.

  10. I just bought this version a few weeks ago for my week-long road trip to Colorado after reading your Peregrine Week series and I’m glad I did! I loved it. Now I’m on the hunt for more nature writing, so thanks to the commenters who have posted their own recommendations.

  11. It reminds me of a book I have on my shelf “The ptarmigan” I believe it is called, it has a similar name and cover but I forget the author.

  12. I got this edition last year. I regularly get the train through that part of Essex. It is depressingly urbanised & spoilt since then…

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