Albatross looks at the place of these iconic birds in a wide variety of human cultures, from early responses by north Atlantic mariners to modern encounters, examining in detail the role the bird plays in the lives of different peoples and societies. The albatross's remarkable ease in the air and its huge wingspan strikes all those who observe them, and the huge journeys they undertake across the oceans inspires awe. The bird has been celebrated through proverbs, folk stories, art, and ceremony. For many, the bird's cultural significance is still determined by Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner'.
People have engaged with the bird over the last two centuries, from those who sought to exploit them to those who devoted their lives to them. Writers, artists and documentary makers have all focused on the albatross and its place in the human imagination has been demonstrated throughout history. Albatross concludes with a consideration of the bird's changing significance in the modern world, as well as threats to its continued existence and its prospects for the future.
"Whenever a new title in this entertaining Animal series lands on my desk it feels like a real treat, and this one does not disappoint.
For years I thought the albatross was a thing of fiction – or extinction – with ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ fixed firmly in my mind. Indeed it was seen as an almost mythical bird in the times when it was seen only by sea-faring folk and viewed largely with superstition as an ill omen. Dominated by Coleridge’s poem, stories and legends abound from those early encounters with the birds.
As with other titles in the series, this book brings together a wonderful mix of fact, fiction, legend, art and science about one creature. In short, it covers a lot of ground. It looks at the role the albatross has played in the different lives and cultures of humans, the wonder of its awesomely long journeys and the knowledge gained from studying it, followed by consequent conservation measures and the way we see this iconic bird in the modern world. It is a great little book to read through, or to dip into."
– Carole Showell, BTO book reviews, September 2014
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Graham Barwell teaches English, Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia.