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Good Reads  Natural History  Biography, Exploration & Travel

Birding Under the Influence Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery

Biography / Memoir
By: Dorian Anderson(Author)
257 pages, no illustrations
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Birding Under the Influence
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  • Birding Under the Influence ISBN: 9781645022237 Paperback Jan 2024 In stock
Price: £20.00
About this book Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

At a personal and professional crossroads, a man resets his life and finds sobriety, love and 618 bird species, cycling his way to a very Big Year.

In Birding Under the Influence, Dorian Anderson, a neuroscience researcher on a pressure-filled life trajectory, walks away from the world of elite institutions, research labs and academic publishing. In doing so, he falls in love and realises he has freed himself to embrace his lifelong passion for birding.

A North American Big Year – a continent-spanning adventure in which a birder attempts to see as many species as possible in twelve months – is a massive undertaking under any circumstances. Breaking the record on a bicycle takes another degree of obsession. And doing all that while sustaining sobriety? That's next-level altogether.

As Dorian pedals across the country, describing the birds he sees, he confronts the challenges of long-distance cycling: treacherous weather, punctured tires, speeding cars and injury. He encounters eccentric characters, blistering blacktop, dreary hotel rooms, snarling dogs and an endless sea of smoking tailpipes. He also confronts his past struggles with alcohol, drugs, and risky behaviours that began in secondary school and followed him into adulthood.

Birding Under the Influence is a candid, honest look at Dorian's double life of academic accomplishment and addiction. While his story of recovery is simultaneously poignant and inspiring, it is ultimately his love of birds and nature that provides the scaffolding to build a new, radically different life.

Customer Reviews


An avid birder since childhood, Dorian Anderson abandoned his hobby at age 15, focusing instead on a demanding scientific career while simultaneously struggling with substance abuse. He earned a degree in molecular and cellular biology from Stanford, conducted predoctoral research in molecular embryology at Harvard, and earned his doctorate in Developmental Genetics and Molecular Cell Biology at New York University. While working as a postdoctoral fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dorian decided to leave the academic rat race and focused on the next phase of his life, returning to birding. In 2014, he embarked on his Biking for Birds project, the first North American Big Year completed entirely by bicycle. During this incredible journey, he biked 17,830 miles (28,500 km) and observed 618 bird species while raising funds for bird habitat conservation. Since his cycling Big Year, he has transitioned to a professional life as a birding guide, writer, and public speaker.

Biography / Memoir
By: Dorian Anderson(Author)
257 pages, no illustrations
Publisher: Chelsea Green
Media reviews

"One hell of a ride."
– Nick Offerman, actor, woodworker, New York Times bestselling author

"Birding Under the Influence is an adrenaline hit for birders and adventure junkies. It's also a surprisingly tender story of redemption, as Dorian Anderson faces down his addictions and reinvents his career. Having eagerly awaited this book after Anderson's 2014 Big Year, I read it in a blissful, all-out binge – as will anyone with a taste for birds and inspiring journeys."
– Noah Stryker, Associate Editor of Birding magazine and author of Birding Without Borders

"Candid and often moving reflections [...] make for absorbing reading [...] [This is] a memoir of a journey that was more than just a chase after numbers."
Booklist (starred)

"A story led by the bike and fueled by his tenacity, Dorian colorfully articulates the depth to which putting in the work – both physically on the bike, and emotionally on oneself – reaps infinite rewards."
– Tiffany Kirsten, birding guide and past Lower 48 U.S. Continental Big Year record holder

"What an incredible story! Dorian's adventure is an inspiration for birders and non-birders alike."
– David Lindo, author of The Urban Birder

"Birding Under the Influence is an incredible story. This has to be the best Big Year book since Kingbird Highway. Of course, being a Dutchman, a bicycle Big Year really appealed to me, so I was already looking forward to this book. But this story proved to be so much more. It is not just a cycling journey of 17,800 miles across the US(!), a country that has, unlike the Netherlands, hardly any cycling paths and a lot more relief, but it is a journey through the mind and the soul. It is a coming-of-age story unlike anything I've read before. I know what it takes to do a Big Year – the sacrifices, the willpower needed, the risks involved, and the stress on yourself and your relationships. To do this on a bike and put your academic career behind you while recovering from alcohol and drug addiction is something else. I read this incredible story in one go, and I think you will too."
– Arjan Dwarshuis, author of The (Big) Year That Flew By

"Dorian is a big personality with an even bigger story. His epic tale of recovery and perseverance will inspire any birder, whether or not their Big Year dreams involve cycling across the continent."
– Nate Swick, American Birding Association podcast host and author of The Beginner's Guide to Birding

"Dorian tells it like it is: don't let life happen to you, no matter what your tendencies and what well-worn grooves you slide into. Life is what you create, accepting your faults and challenges, and realizing that the path forward is not how you plan it – instead, it happens how you least imagined it. And as in any wonderful, gripping story, great birding was involved!"
– Alvaro Jaramillo, owner and guide, Alvaro's Adventures

"Recounting a starkly different kind of 'Big Year' Dorian details an unlikely saga that takes a toll on him, physically and mentally. So often birding is a quest, and in this memoir Dorian Anderson seeks birds but also some sense of self. At times throwing himself on the mercy of his fellow Americans, he finds his way through and across the country, enlisting a colorful cast of characters as he goes. For this one year his only commitment is to his bicycle. His bike both frees and imprisons him simultaneously, but eventually it delivers him, along with a unique story. America's sweetest wildlife spectacles light a path that would otherwise be strewn with 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and rails of cocaine. From Snowy Owls in Boston to Yellow-footed Gulls in California's Salton Sea, saddle up for a modern journey that harkens back to classic birding adventures, like those of Pete Dunne in The Feather Quest or to Wild America by Roger Tory Peterson and James Fisher."
– George Armistead, founder and guide, Hillstar Nature

"This is no ordinary Big Year birding book, as Dorian's story supersedes birds and reveals how a year of contemplation, biking, and birding helped him to overcome his inner struggles of addiction and broken relationships that are all too relatable for many of us. Many of us are reluctant to hit the 'pause' button on life, afraid of what that might lead to, but Dorian's example of setting aside a year to process his thoughts, relationships, and future is an example for us, and birding might just be the adventure we need, even for a day or two."
– Luke Safford, Director of Engagement and Education, Tucson Audubon

"Birding Under the Influence is a fresh memoir filled with insights into addiction, recovery, and birding – a story about how taking a closer look at the earth helped to recalibrate a man's struggling soul."
Foreword Reviews

"There are many big year novels, as birders tell how they tried to see as many species of birds in a year as they can, but Anderson's self-powered attempt covers novel challenges and encounters. Among the physical and mental challenges of birding and biking across the country, Anderson also recounts his experience finding sobriety – another tale of nature's many cures."
Portland Press Herald

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