Of more than 8,000 bird species, the swan is surely one of the most easily recognised. Airborne, the swan is a majestic sight: with its long, slender neck outstretched, it glides gracefully with slow, strong wing-beats. Its large webbed feet and short legs, which make it awkward on land, propel it serenely and effortlessly through water. Swan is a comprehensive natural and cultural history of this most dignified of birds.
Peter Young relates the natural history of the swan: its elegant exterior concealing a lightweight frame; details of extinct species and the differences between the 8 surviving species; its power and endurance; its formation flying, which conserves energy and allows long-haul flights to be made at speed; its habitat and feeding habits. He also explores the extensive cultural history of the swan, from its frequent portrayal in painting, sculpture, porcelain and furniture; to its use in heraldry; the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan; Hans Christian Andersen's The Ugly Duckling; and Swan Lake. The book goes on to examine the uses and abuses of swans; questions of conservation; of the swan as food; and its widespread use in logos and brand-names.
'When contemplating the serene splendour of the swan, one may be disagreeably surprised by it hissing reaction to friendly approach. The swan has fascinated humanity for aeons a fascination provoked not by its mere loveliness, but by the contrast between its appearance of perfection and its somewhat perverse nature. Peter Young's study of the bird involves ornithology, but also covers poetry, science, philosophy, and even the movements of markets ... This beautiful bird makes for a poor meal by the way, and this is fitting. The Independent on Sunday The grace and beauty of the swan is celebrated in this handsome pocket-sized book, which explores the natural and cultural history of this elegant bird. Cage and Aviary Birds another fine contribution of the Reaktion Animal book series. This book is beautifully illustrated and replete with fascinating details of the natural history of swans, in addition to rich historical and cultural facts regarding the nominate animal. Anthrozoos we find, thanks to Victoria de Rijke's superlative addition to Reaktion's Animal series, that ducks occupy huge reservoirs of our psyche and our planet ... Duck serenades and expands its subject, giving this charming, iconic bird a larger and infinitely more complex life than the one we commonly accord it ... both the birds and this book deserve our regard. TLS It's not just about what we do with the meat and eggs, but how ducks have infiltrated language and culture, in such matters as the origins of the word "quackery", Donald Duck's connections with propaganda and surrealism and, yes, even Toilet Duck. It's a very readable introduction to a world which is both more interesting than you might have imagined, and very charming too. The Herald, Glasgow the splendidly illustrated (a hallmark of the series) gallimaufry of the weird and wonderful IBIS
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Peter Young is an independent author who lives in Crawley, West Sussex, uk. He is the author of Person to Person (1992), a social history of the telephone, and Tortoise, one of the very first books in the 'Animal' series (Reaktion Books, 2003).