Avian Illuminations examines the many roles birds have played in human society, from food, messengers, deities and pets, to omens, muses, timekeepers, custodians, hunting companions, decorative motifs and, most importantly, embodiments of our aspirations. It narrates the history of our relationships with a host of birds including crows, owls, parrots, falcons, eagles, nightingales, hummingbirds, and many more. Along the way Avian Illuminations describes how birds' nesting has symbolised human romance, how their flight has inspired inventors throughout history, and concludes by showing that the interconnections between birds and humans are so manifold that a world without birds would effectively mean an end to human culture itself. Beautifully illustrated, this is a superb overview of our long and rich association with our feathered friends.
Boria Sax teaches at Sing Sing prison and online in the graduate literature program at Mercy College. He has published many books including City of Ravens (2012), Imaginary Animals (Reaktion, 2013) and Dinomania (Reaktion, 2019).
"Captivating and graced with exquisite illustrations, Boria Sax's Avian Illuminations blends history, folklore, art, literature, and ornithology to explain why birds are such an integral part of human dreams and aspirations [...] Avian Illuminations, with its rich content and glorious illustrations, educates, entertains, and aims a body-blow to human pride with its reminder that when birds reigned as dinosaurs, human ancestors were still "relatively small marsupial-like balls of fur."'
– Foreword Reviews
"The wonderful Avian Illuminations traces in rich and fascinating detail the cultural relationships between humans and birds through history, philosophy, religion and art. This is a book for difficult times – it entertains, educates, elucidates and, in its assessment of what might be necessary to repair a damaged world, gives us hope."
– Esther Woolfson, author of Corvus: A Life with Birds (2009) and Between Light and Storm: How We Live with Other Species (2020)
"Boria Sax has long been my most trusted guide to understanding the complex relationships between humans and animals. In Avian Illuminations, I feel very fortunate to follow his wonderful mind once again as he weaves a complex portrait of the symbolic richness of our portrayals of birds throughout history and myth."
– Ceridwen Dovey, author of Blood Kin (2007) and Only the Animals (2014)
"From Homer to Harry Potter and Plato to Rachel Carlson, Boria Sax provides a masterful overview of the role of birds in human cultural and psychological life. Drawing on history, literature, mythology and art, Avian Illuminations is a beautifully written intellectual treat that will delight anyone interested in the feathered creatures we share our world with."
– Hal Herzog, Professor of Psychology, University of North Carolina, and author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals
"Birds have provided models in almost every aspect of human culture. Their songs inspired our music; their courtship rituals, our dance; their plumage, our fashion [...] Avian illuminations by Boria Sax covers the vast range of practices that diverse cultures have taken from birds with extraordinary thoroughness. It also goes beyond listing the colorful array of practices and motifs in isolation to show how they have provided much of the emotional and intellectual foundation of human culture."
– Roberto Marchesini, Director, Centro Studi Filosofia Postumanista (Center for Posthuman Philosophy), and author of Over the Human: Post-Humanism and the Concept of Animal Epiphany
"A fascinating exploration of those ecstatic moments when a human becomes enraptured by contemplation of a bird – moments which, as Boria Sax explains, can approach a religious level of intensity. I never imagined that birds had occupied so many roles in human lives and imaginings and through such a deep swath of history. An inspiring and fascinating read."
– Clive Wynne, Professor of Psychology and Animal Studies, University of Arizona, co-author of Animal Cognition, and author of Dog is Love
"In Avian Illuminations, Boria Sax, with the deep probing intellect of a renaissance scholar, reveals how human culture has been informed and shaped by birds. His history covers thousands of years and has something special for everyone, whether a poet, artist, historian, folklorist, falconer or birder."
– John Marzluff, author of Welcome to Subirdia, Gifts of the Crow and In Search of Meadowlarks