The Birds of America. One man's dream to illustrate and publish a work depicting all the birds of North America. Midway through the nearly twelve-year project, the French-American painter and naturalist John James Audubon was beset by obstacles and began to doubt if he could complete it. This overlooked chapter in his life comes alive in this volume, as Audubon faces a difficult test while the fate of his "Great Work" hangs in the balance.
By the spring of 1833, after six years of serial publication, not even half of the four hundred promised prints had been issued to his subscribers. Audubon still needed to find and paint scores of additional species before he could lay aside his brush.
The uncharted shores of Labrador beckoned with rumors of avian wonders, but an expedition to the north would be a severe trial. It was a desolate land, and its brief summer would afford him little time to accomplish his mission. At the age of forty-eight, he questioned how much longer he could maintain the punishing pace his project demanded. His wife, Lucy, feared for his health. Audubon was undaunted.
As he sailed from Eastport, Maine, in early June, developments abroad threatened to undo his work. Robert Havell Jr., the brilliant London engraver and printer who had brought Audubon's vision to the page, was ready to quit. At the same time, the naturalist's harshest critic in England had just unleashed an attack on him in Britain's foremost natural-history journal. Half a world away, Audubon was unable to respond.
Through the lens of this heretofore unwritten tale, Audubon scholar Peter B. Logan offers a beautifully textured narrative for historians and Audubon lovers. Meticulously researched, using many previously unknown sources, this groundbreaking book portrays the panoramic sweep of Audubon's remarkable life, from his illegitimate birth through his aimless early years as a frontier storekeeper to his decision to launch a daring enterprise from which he would emerge as America's greatest naturalist. At the heart of this saga lies the Labrador expedition. With the reader alongside during the most critical point in his career, Audubon is revealed as his closest friends knew him – dynamic, gregarious, utterly indomitable, while simultaneously insecure, egotistical, and not beyond stretching the truth.
Addressing historical errors made by previous biographers and supplemented with numerous maps and illustrations, as well as an appendix of never-before-published documents, Audubon: America's Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador rewrites the unforgettable story of the iconic American Woodsman, whose passion and purpose produced an enduring monument to natural history that has never been equaled.
A graduate of Bowdoin College with a law degree from Georgetown University, Peter B. Logan is a practicing attorney with a lifelong infatuation with birds and John James Audubon. His essays on birding have appeared in Birder’s World and Bowdoin magazines. He lives in Northern California.
"Peter Logan's new biography of John James Audubon is a revelation. Even the parts of Audubon's life that have been told before are so freshly presented here that they make a gripping read. His experiences in Labrador, rarely discussed in this detail by other scholars, give a fascinating new perspective to Audubon's life. Logan's endnotes are models of what a book like this should offer. This is a well-researched and important work that every Audubon enthusiast will want to read (and own)."
– Robert McCracken Peck, author of A Glorious Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the Making of American Science; A Celebration of Birds: The Life and Art of Louis Agassiz Fuertes; and Wild Birds of America: The Art of Basil Ede
"Peter Logan has written a magnificent account of Audubon's expedition to Labrador, in which he describes the dedication of Audubon and his companions in their search for material for his great work, and their excitement in finding new discoveries. In the process, Logan gives a vivid account of life in this remote region at that time – even at that early period the devastations caused by the "eggers," fishermen, and hunters were apparent to Audubon, who commented, "Where can I go now to find nature undisturbed?" Logan also details background events which were taking place concurrently in England – difficulties which Audubon's son Victor was experiencing in his dealings with the engraver Robert Havell and the attacks on Audubon's character by the eccentric Englishman Charles Waterton.
But this book is much more than just a tale about the Labrador expedition. It contains an excellent biography of Audubon, highlighting his complex personality and the tensions created in his relationships with his beloved wife, Lucy, as a result of his prolonged absences in the relentless pursuit of his goal, as well as with his great friend and collaborator Rev. John Bachman. Logan has traced many original sources of information, particularly in the prolific correspondence of Audubon and his family and friends. Every fact is given its source, and the extensive notes make this an essential work of reference which will be treasured by all who are interested in the great naturalist. A splendid work of scholarship!"
– John Chalmers, M.D., author of Audubon in Edinburgh
"In Audubon: America's Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador, Peter Logan offers a superbly well-documented, well-written, and readable account of the months Audubon spent in Labrador. Logan's insights into this remarkable man's life, courage, and sheer determination deserve a wide readership. This is a real contribution to the Audubon saga."
– Christine E. Jackson, author of John James LaForest Audubon: An English Perspective and Bird Etchings: The Illustrators and Their Books: 1655-1855
"A weighty, prodigiously researched biography of John James Audubon [...] Logan uses copious primary and secondary source materials, including meticulously documented newspaper articles, personal letters, and journal entries written by Audubon and his legion of acquaintances, as well as hundreds of pages of endnotes – some referential, others featuring heavy annotations. He draws a vivid image of a charismatic personality who was, by turns, ebullient, melancholy, obsessed, and inquisitive."
– Kirkus Reviews